- Two foldable phone prototypes had been sent to Apple’s assembly partner Foxconn for rigorous tests, according to a South Korean media report.
- Tests are needed to ensure end product — including screen and the hinges — would withstand tens of thousands of folding and unfolding.
- Foldable phones are a booming market, estimated to hit $29 billion in 2025.
Will iPhone lovers rev up demand for a foldable version? Apple has reportedly started sending foldable iPhone prototypes — dubbed as “iPhone Air” or “iPhone Flip” — to its Asian assembly partner Foxconn for testing.
Foldable phones, a leap forward in smartphone design, have made a big splash recently. But Apple has skipped it so far. As a form factor — a “pocketable” device with a larger screen — is seen as the pinnacle of innovation in mobile phones.
An earlier report claimed Apples’ foldable iPhone will have “a possible release in September 2022”. Another report, however, stated 2023 as the planned release date.
Reports have it that two foldable iPhone designs were tested at the Foxconn factory in Shenzhen, China. Apple fan site 9t05mac reported Tuesday (May 10) that one prototype is a dual-screen model with clamshell displays hinged together; another is a foldable iPhone with a design akin to Samsung Galaxy Z Flip.
The “shells” being tested have limited internals and not fully-functional iPhones, the report stated, adding that its unclear if it’s a product that will make it to launch.
The Economic Daily News further reported two display technologies are being evaluated: OLED or Micro-LED. A leaker known as Jon Prosser, has also claimed that Apple is working on a foldable iPhone which features two separate display panels connected by a hinge — rather than a single display design like the Samsung Galaxy Fold.
The tests typically involve more than 100,000 opening and closing tests — laptops require to be open and closed between 20,000 and 30,000 times. Prosser also shared a Twitter video showing how foldable phones are tested.
Though Apple makes no comments on such reports, there are signs it’s been working on a foldable device. The Cupertino-based tech giant is known to have spent years developing foldable prototypes.
Reports of Apple’s plans to launch a foldable iPhone first emerged about five years ago. For example, in the 2017, the US patent office published a filing by Apple for a device that can be “opened and closed like a book”.
In September 2020, Apple was reportedly working on a folding iPhone with a screen made by Samsung, a key Apple supplier of OLED screens for latest iPhones.
In November 2020, it was reported that Apple’s folding iPhones sent to Foxconn for testing was expected to offer at least 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage.
A foldable iPhone would allow Apple to enter the market of smartphones with a larger screen in a more “pocketable” form factor — to compete with Huawei’s Mate X (first released November 2019), Motorola Razr (November 2019), Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip (February 2020).
The iPhone Air, a concept released by ADR Studio, shows the kind of foldable iPhone with a portless design and features Apple’s next-generation M1 chip.
Another concept, rendered by ConceptsiPhone, shows its own iteration of Apple’s foldable iPhone.
Moving “release” date
The release date, however, has been the subject of much speculation.
Early rumours pointed to 2021 as a potential release day. That did not happen.
Long-time Apple analyst Ming Chi Kuo (via MacRumors) suggested 2023 might be more realistic, but revised revised his prediction in April stating the release could be pushed it back to 2025.
The 2025 launch was echoed by display analyst Ross Young.
Excitement for a foldable iPhone, however, has been muted. In a February 2022 survey, industry publication 9to5Mac asked: “Are you excited about Apple getting into foldable displays?” More than half of respondents picked “No” on the Twitter poll out of the 3,600 votes so far.
The current generation of foldable smartphones have screens ranging from 6 to 8 inches — when unfolded. Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kou earlier stated that Apple is working on a foldable iPhone with a 7.5-8” display, adding the device “may be a foldable iPad or a hybrid of iPad & iPhone”.
Other companies, including Microsoft Corp., have recently launched devices with visible hinges separating two distinct panels.
Though many harbour doubts that a foldable iPhone may ultimately never be introduced, it would would be big one for Apple, if it happens.
The company that pioneered touchable, all-screen smartphones, making it most successful consumer technology product in history, needs a breath of fresh air of innovation.
Data firm IDC predicts that worldwide market for foldable phones could reach 27.6 million units with a market value of $29 Billion in 2025.