Genuine Courage: Apple Shouldn’t Build a Foldable iPhone

1 minute read
| Editorial

There is a current debate about whether Apple should be thinking about and delivering a foldable iPhone. I say no.

Samsung Galaxy Fold
Samsung Galaxy Fold

That said, Apple will do it anyway. Eventually. It’s new. It’s sexy. The competition is doing it.

Tech Crunch wonders: We’re ready for foldable phones, but are they ready for us?

This is difficult technology. It’s really, really hard materials science to build a seamless, foldable display that lasts. Samsung and Huawei are very technically competent companies, but it’s a bad sign that they wouldn’t let Tech Crunch interact with their foldable smartphones at a recent showing.

We know from experience that, at some point, management is satisfied even if engineers aren’t, and it’s time to ship a product. What we get is hands-off demos, a glitzy rollout later and likely unanticipated problems as customers abuse their new toys.

This is why Macworld’s Michael Simon says Apple should lead the way, not follow.

While Huawei’s and Samsung’s first efforts are definitely better than, say, the crop of smartphones that were available when Apple launched the original iPhone, the Mate X and Galaxy Fold are definitely starting from a better place. But like the iPhone, Apple Watch, AirPods, and just about everything else coming out of Cupertino, we’re not going to know how great a folding phone can be until Apple makes one.

But is it worth doing at all? This kind of technology is going to have warranty issues, I am certain. Plus, the foldable phones look to cost near US$2,000. Does Apple need to go there given the “thousand dollar pushback” of late?

Another issue that comes to mind is usability by people with disabilities. A lot of people I talk to, even without disabilities, are fixated on one-handed operations. The demos I’ve seen suggest two-handed operation is necessary to manipulate a foldable phone.

Finally, there’s the issue for developers. The last thing Apple wants to do is aggravate developers by dragging them into further display mangagement issues associated with a foldable iPhone.

The innovation game is on to attract smartphone customers. But right now, I don’t see a pressing need for this particular technology. It feels like the failed 3-D TV gimmick. Apple may go ahead and follow the competition in panic mode, but I hope the company passes on this fad.

Anyway, Apple engineers always have a better vision.

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Paul Goodwin
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Paul Goodwin

If Apple builds it, how many will come at $2K? A foldable 10” iPad sounds interesting though.

wab95
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wab95

John: I concur with your sentiments, and further agree that it is an issue of the operative word, courage. I further agree with aardman below that, in advance of the perfection of new materials that are now under investigation, this is a mere gimmick. The type of material that would lend itself to a robust device, free from the increased probability of breakage simply from having more moveable parts, is that of the soft screen written about by Sci-Fi writers like Stephen Baxter, devices that can be rolled up like a piece of paper. The challenge will then be integrating… Read more »

Cindy Kelley
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Cindy Kelley

If it works, I want one (says a woman who is often without large pockets).

Lee Dronick
Member
Lee Dronick

Another issue that comes to mind is usability by people with disabilities. A lot of people I talk to, even without disabilities, are fixated on one-handed operations. The demos I’ve seen suggest two-handed operation is necessary to manipulate a foldable phone.

Well the two designs are not mutually exclusive, Apple could and should offer both.

aardman
Member
aardman

Seems that foldable screen components turn brittle when it gets too cold. i.e colder than “typical temperatures hospitable to humans”. Apple filed a patent for heating the screen when it gets too cold. I guess flex-screen phones are necessarily bulkier because they need bigger batteries.

https://appleinsider.com/articles/19/02/28/foldable-iphone-heating-system-could-prevent-damage-in-cold-weather

geoduck
Member
geoduck

A comparison to 3DTV is apt. I think in six months to a year we will see that folding phones make up only a tiny percentage of both numbers and profit. A few people who have to own the cutting edge will get them. Everyone else will look, and buy a regular phone.
But flexible displays will be a thing. Something like this I suspect will be where they are used.
https://www.cultofmac.com/609040/bendable-smartphone-watch/

aardman
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aardman

Yes, I think they’re excellent for curved but fixed applications, i.e. no repeated bending and unbending. So signage is probably the most attractive use case. For example, wrapped around a mall pillar.

Or on the side of your car which you can then sell as traveling ad space. Now that would be perfect; tied to an app that tracks where you have been at what time of day and ad rates are charged accordingly. No pay if it’s sitting in your garage.

aardman
Member
aardman

When the boffins develop screen material that can switch instantly from plastic-like flexibility to glass-like rigidity (including surface rigidity to resist scratching) at the flick of a switch, then foldable phones might take off. Until then, foldable phones are pure gimmickry.

makeitup
Member
makeitup

Absofrigginglutely they should ignore this fad. I agree, this will go the way of 3D-tv. All the rage, until it’s not. Flexible screens are inviting damage. I’d love to see the repair incidents on these.