Foldable phones are widely considered to be the future by many. They open up the door to a world of new possibilities and new form factors. Most iPhone users and hardcore Apple loyalists are also looking forward to the company’s first foldable iPhone. The truth, however, is that a foldable iPhone is still a few years away — that is if Apple ever decides to release one.
The Foldables of Today
So far, the world has already seen the launch of foldable phones like the Samsung Galaxy Fold, the Galaxy Z Flip, Huawei Mate X, and the Moto Razr. So far, we have seen folding phones with two distinct form factors: the Galaxy Fold and Huawei Mate X which have an almost tablet-size display and the clamshell form-factor as on the Motorola Razr and the Galaxy Z Flip.
The Motorola Razr and the Galaxy Z Flip with their clamshell form factor are definitely going to win a lot of people over with just how compact they become when folded. This makes it easier to carry and keep in one’s pocket.
As for the Galaxy Fold and the Huawei Mate X, they are perfect for people who multitask heavily with multiple apps. They can fold/unfold the device and use the massive display to run multiple apps in windowed form at once.
Since all these devices are the first consumer-oriented foldables, they all have their own set of reliability and performance issues. But if one looks past all their problems, they give us a glimpse of what the future holds. It took OEMs almost a decade to reach a point where they could release bezel-less smartphones. Similarly, the foldable phones of today give us a look into the future, of what’s coming. The foldable phones of today are important because they are the foundation for the foldable devices of the future.
Folding Phones Are the Future
There is a reason why everyone believes that folding phones are the future. Imagine taking your phone out of your pocket and then unfolding it to expand its display whenever you need to multitask heavily. A crude version of this is already possible with the Galaxy Fold but that form factor and the device itself still needs a lot of refinement. The Galaxy Z Flip with its clamshell form factor also shows the usefulness of foldable devices. You can flip the device and make the bottom half act as a tripod while on a video call or taking selfies.
Down the line, once foldable displays have matured, we can possibly see devices that will look just like the iPhone 11 Pro but can be unfolded to reveal a display as big as the 7.9-inch iPad mini.
Folding Phones and Their Teething Troubles
Al the foldable phones that have launched so far have had a very rocky start. The launch of the Galaxy Fold, Huawei Mate X, and the Motorola Razr were delayed by few weeks to months due to reliability concerns. The entire saga that unraveled during the Galaxy Fold launch pretty much made it clear that foldable phones still have a long way to go before they become mainstream.
If you thought the Galaxy Fold’s display reliability issues were just a one-off thing, a similar story is already playing out with the Motorola Razr and the Galaxy Z Flip. The Razr’s display is extremely easy to scratch and feedback from early customers and reviewers make it clear that the display is simply not good enough to withstand day-to-day use.
As for the Galaxy Z Flip, Samsung proudly claimed that it shipped with an ultra thin folding glass. However, a durability test of the device revealed that the cover glass was still just plastic and it offered no scratch resistance whatsoever.
Apart from durability, another major issue with foldable phones is the crease on the display. Since the display can be folded, the plastic layering on top will start showing a crease at the point where it folds. Companies can at best try to come up with novel hinge solutions to avoid the crease but they are still working against physics here. What’s even worse is that the displays on foldable devices are so fragile that they can break in cold weather.
Input reviewer Raymond Wong has already had the display of his Motorola Razr peel from the edges less than a week after purchasing the retail unit.
Foldable phones are still in their infancy as the technology is still a few years away from maturing. The issues we are seeing right now are teething troubles that are present with any new technology in its initial stages. The first smartphones were not perfect and it took OEMs quite a few years to get rid of all the issues. Now, Apple has a tendency of either developing a technology entirely on its own in-house or adopting a new tech only after it has fully matured. Since Apple does not make its own displays, the company will have to rely on Samsung and other OEMs for flexible displays. Thus, the company is going to play the waiting game and wait until the technology matures before we can possibly see the debut of a folding iPhone.
Apple is working on a foldable device as this patent from the company hints at. The patent hints at a device whose display hinges can fold either in half or thirds.
Apple is also working on solutions for common problems with folding phones. The company has patented an innovative hinge design that folds the display with a bigger than usual radius to avoid a crease on it. Its hinge mechanism has retractable flaps that will extend internally to support the display at the point where it bends. This will provide it with ample support in case exterior pressure is applied to it.
So when are we going to see Apple release a folding iPhone? Not anytime soon. There are a lot of issues with foldable displays that need to be resolved before the tech is ready for the mainstream. More importantly, folding phones, for now, are just a cool paper concept that has turned into a reality. The form factor and the implementation in which they can be useful in daily life still needs to be figured out. Until these things happen, do not expect Apple to release a folding iPhone.[Image Source: The Verge]