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Why You Should (and Shouldn't) Be Excited About a Folding iPhone

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Photo: Alex Cranz (Gizmodo)

LG, Samsung, and even Lenovo have been trying to make gadgets with foldable screens a thing for a while now. But after one tiny rumor said Apple could be working on one too, suddenly everybody is worked up in a frenzy? Please.

According to CNBC, the only info people are working off of is one quote from BoA analyst Wamsi Mohan, who said, “Our checks also suggest that Apple is working with suppliers on a foldable phone (that potentially could double up as a tablet) for launch in 2020.”

Ignoring that release date for a second, here’s another newsflash: Of course Apple is. Smartphone companies have pretty much already hit the limit on how much they can reduce bezels, with even mid-range phones like the Asus Zenfone 5 offering a 90 percent screen-to-body ratio (and that’s before you mention even wilder devices like the Vivo Apex).


That means companies like Apple and Samsung need to already be thinking about how phone displays can be enhanced next, which is precisely where the idea of foldable screens comes in. On a device with a folding screen, you could have a normal looking phone when you’re walking around town and just need to peek at a text or directions. But then, when you have some time to kill while sitting on a bus or train, just a few simple movements and BAM, you’ve got a bigger display for streaming Netflix, YouTube, or whatever.


Sounds great right? Sure, but the problem is making it work in a way that will stand up to the rigors of everyday life. Previously, Samsung has said it was planning to release an actual, folding phone this year, in 2018. That is, until Samsung realized the task might be more difficult than it anticipated, which I should remind you is a sentiment coming from the current undisputed leader in mobile display technology.

Consider other display innovations like curved screens, which first debuted on the 2013 Samsung Galaxy Round and then went through a ton of iterations like we saw on the Galaxy Note Edge and Galaxy S6 Edge in 2014 and 2015. It wasn’t until the S7 Edge in 2016 that the tech was good enough for people to really care about it.


Now, let’s return to that supposed 2020 release date—it suddenly doesn’t seem so far away, does it? Apple has never really been the company to unveil world-first, brand new tech on its phones. Aside from the 3D laser sensors required for FaceID, Apple usually bides its time, waiting and refining before introducing features like touchscreens, fingerprint sensors, useful water-resistance, or OLED displays. To expect a foldable phone from Apple in 2020 when not a single commercial device has featured one yet isn’t just bold, it’s borderline foolish.

In fact, the most interesting recent tidbit about future Apple display tech isn’t this. It’s the company’s rumored secret display development facility, which is said to be working on new microLED screens—stuff we could see before a foldable iPhone hits the market.


So in summary: Yes, folding screens are cool and I can’t wait for them to be real. But it’s still way too early to get the hype train started, especially when the news is coming from a financial analyst who presumably only cares how that tech will affect Apple’s stock performance.