It didn’t take long into 2021 before the first Apple product rumors started to surface. This time, however, I’m not sure you should get too excited. At least, not yet.
Reports have surfaced over the past few days that Apple is currently working on two different foldable device designs. That’s according to United Daily News, which says that Apple’s manufacturing partner, Foxconn, has completed testing on prototypes.
That Apple would be experimenting on foldable screen devices shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. It seems like every smartphone maker has been working on figuring out how to build a device with a display that folds in half that isn’t just a novelty.
So far, that’s been a challenge. I spent quite a bit of time over the past few months using the two flagship foldable devices, the Samsung Z Fold2, and the Microsoft Surface Duo. Both are very interesting devices–for different reasons–but neither is quite ready for prime time.
For now, they’re still too quirky, too cumbersome to use, and too expensive. They’re sort of stuck in that middle school awkwardness that comes from trying to figure out how to live in a body you don’t quite understand or know what to do with. We’ve all been there, but few of us would recommend it as a good time.
To be fair, most of the problems with foldable devices aren’t really about the hardware–both the Surface Duo and Z Fold2 are impeccably made pieces of technology (aside from the camera on the Duo). Compared with the original Samsung Fold, which wasn’t even officially released after review units had major problems with both the display and the hinge, the latest version is extremely well made.
The real problem is that Android isn’t quite sure what to do with a device that isn’t quite a smartphone but definitely isn’t a tablet. Android is a great operating system for smartphones. Beyond that, it’s mostly just a mess. That’s why Apple definitely should make a foldable iPhone, even though it probably won’t–at least not any time soon.
According to the reports, Apple is actually working on designing two different devices. One has a single large display that folds over on a hinge, similar to the Z Fold2. The other uses two displays connected with a hinge, like the Surface Duo. The report speculates that Apple plans to make only one device, but is working to figure out which is most viable.
There is absolutely no way to know what Apple’s timeline might be for releasing such a device, if ever. It also seems very unlikely that Apple will introduce a foldable device in the next few years. The iPhone maker is notoriously cautious about introducing new technology, preferring to stick with what it has mastered.
It took the company far longer to include 5G in its devices than most other manufacturers. Also, Apple still uses more modest optical telephoto cameras instead of employing some of the digital zoom tricks used by companies like Samsung or OnePlus.
But, in the case of a foldable device, Apple is actually uniquely suited to building something that makes sense and actually works. Unlike Samsung or Microsoft or Android, Apple makes both the software and the hardware and is very good at both.
And, Apple has clearly been working on the hardware. The company was awarded patents as far back as 2017 for “electronic devices with flexible displays.” As far as software, Apple’s advantage is that it can tailor the experience to whatever device it decides to build.
I actually think there’s room for a device that fits into your pocket, but still unfolds into something you can use for more than just scrolling through your Twitter or Instagram feed. Honestly, the Z Fold2 was a great device for reading, consuming content, dealing with emails, sending messages, and even video chat. The Duo was even more interesting, especially because of how well made it was, and how thin its overall form factor.
For me, the main drawback was that I had to do all of those things in Android, which wasn’t up for the task most of the time. While I’m sure it won’t happen any time soon, I expect that won’t be a problem on a foldable iPhone. That’s exactly why Apple should make one.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.