I want a folding iPhone and I want it now

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Why should Android users have all the folding fun?
Why should Android users have all the folding fun?
Photo: Mika Baumeister/Unsplash CC

If you’ve been paying attention to cutting-edge smartphones, you probably noticed a trend — foldable screens. And while folding phones might seem gimmicky, I think they present the perfect solution to a market-inflicted problem.

Unfortunately, while Apple is reportedly working on folding iPhone prototypes, the latest report suggests it we might wait nearly three more years for Cupertino’s first crack at such a device.

That’s way too long when the Android market is pressing forward fast. Please, Apple, don’t make us wait for a folding iPhone.

We need foldables so iPhone can grow

The iPhone 12 Pro Max is too big to be comfortable, but the iPhone 12 mini lacks premium features.
The iPhone 12 Pro Max is too big to be comfortable, but the iPhone 12 mini lacks premium features.
Photo: Apple

As smartphone screens have grown bigger, carrying these ever-larger devices has become more and more annoying. In just 13 years, we went from the original iPhone, with a 3.5-inch display to the iPhone 12 Pro Max’s roughly 6.7-inch display.

Even with its shrunken-down bezels and thinner body, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is arguably at the limit of an acceptably sized phone. Putting it in your jeans nearly requires custom pants pockets (or a revival of those very unflattering cargo shorts).

Personally, as much as I would love to carry a Max-size iPhone, I just can’t bear putting such a behemoth in my pocket. I’m willing to miss out on of some of those top-tier features to get a smaller, pocketable device.

Pocketability is the reason so many people pined for the iPhone SE and the iPhone 12 mini. But feature trade-offs, and limitations of their smaller sizes, make those devices less desirable than bigger ones. It’s a sorry state of affairs that could be easily alleviated with a collapsible smartphone.

Android makers have taken note of the situation. Companies like Samsung and Motorola have started making foldable phones to maximize screen real estate while minimizing pocket space.

Everything is a remix

The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip sports a 6.7-inch display, but folds in half to fit in your pocket
The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip sports a 6.7-inch display, but folds in half to fit in your pocket.
Photo: Samsung

The same thing that happened in the late ’90s and early 2000s is happening now. Just as we shifted from “candy bar” phones to flip phones to gain pocketability and functionality, I believe we’re at a point where slab-style phones like the Pro Max are already so big they’re forcing a transition. If Apple (and other phone-makers) are going move to even larger displays and multitasking app experiences, we need a change in form factor to get out of this design rut.

In those early flip phone days, Motorola arguably claimed ownership of the market. From the StarTAC and MicroTAC, through the RAZR, Motorola was synonymous with flip phones. Others like LG, Sony Ericcson, Nokia, and Kyocera all tried to compete (some more successfully than others), but none dominated like the Motorola line-up.

In this modern era, Motorola is battling it out for the foldable market. The new Razr looks cool and stokes the flames of nostalgia. Android giant Samsung is in the mix with its wildly impressive Galaxy Z Flip and Galaxy Fold devices. And this is just the start of things to come.

As Android-makers continue experiment, Apple has a chance to swoop in and claim dominance of the flipping, folding smartphone market. But Cupertino needs to get in the game soon if they don’t want to become the Kyocera of the folding phone era.

Timing isn’t always everything

The 2020 Motorola Razr is like a blast from the past
The 2020 Motorola Razr is like a blast from the past.
Photo: Motorola

The mass market often hesitates before jumping on board new trends in tech. It took several years for smartphones to supplant “dumb phones.” And it took even longer for laptops to truly overtake desktops. Even big phones (what we used to call “phablets”) only reached mass acceptance when they became the only option.

The shift to folding phones is going to take time, too. After some high-profile problems, convincing consumers that foldable smartphones are reliable and capable enough to replace their slab phones isn’t going to happen overnight.

If Apple truly plans to wait another two or three years to release its folding iPhone, how long will it take after that for the form factor to become the standard? Considering how long Apple held on to the iPhone 8 design, we could be in for quite a wait.

Apple is in a position now to be part of the rise of foldables. The market is primed for an amazing flip phone, and we all know Apple makes stellar hardware. But if Cupertino doesn’t give the folding iPhone the focus it deserves, the company could be stuck playing catch-up to a bunch of premium Android foldables.

Apple doesn’t comment on future products

Don’t close your mind to the potential of the folding iPhone.
Don’t close your mind to the potential of the folding iPhone. This is just one of many possibilities.
Photo: Foldable.News

Ultimately, Apple may not feel the same as I do about the foldable market. Or maybe it actually has one ready to drop this year, which would surprise everyone.

All we have right now are market analysts and supply-chain insiders giving their best estimates on what they think might happen. Naturally, Apple won’t tell us anything until it’s good and ready.

In the end, whether Apple makes a flip-style iPhone or a full-size iPhone that opens up into a tablet, we can expect the hardware to impress. The big question, then, is when?

I love iOS. But I also definitely have fold envy, and three years is a long time to wait. If Apple doesn’t hurry up, I’m afraid I’ll be lured away from my hideous cargo shorts by the bigger, bendier competition.