OPINION: A new report suggests Apple is ‘delaying’ plans to launch an iPhone Fold. Luckily for iOS lovers, if the device does arrive, it will only be when the time is right.
We’ve seen what happens when a new smartphone form factor launches before it is truly ready. The deeply flawed Samsung Galaxy Fold launch in 2019 undermined some incredible, pioneering work on flexible displays. That phone was a decade in the making, but it arrived a year too soon, and did some serious damage.
In the short term, the recall and corresponding issues set Samsung back in a significant way. While the Galaxy Fold 2 and its Flip counterpart were largely free of the same display issues, it took time to build trust among consumers. That was especially important given the premium being charged on the phones, which Samsung’s relentless innovation enabled in the first place.
It was only in 2021 the sector truly made its mark with the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Galaxy Z Flip 3 forming a meaningful part of the company’s smartphone business. This year’s instalments are now as eagerly anticipated as the Galaxy S range. Samsung has proved the foldable’s worthy of the first significant form factor revamp in over a decade.
Which brings us to reports Apple is delaying its iPhone Fold handset by a couple of years; from 2023, to 2025. I can tell you now – if the iPhone Fold arrives in 2025, that’ll be when the phone is actually ready for consumers.
Apple may have internal targets. It may have been initially targeting a 2023 release. However, there’s no chance Apple will release the product before it hits the company’s sky-high standards for hardware. If it’s carrying the iPhone name forward, it’s too important to get wrong.
In recent years, from an expectations standpoint, we’ve gotten so far away from the realities of production. We are still experiencing multiple concurrent crises. The pandemic, the global supply chain, the silicon shortage and crippling inflation are all hitting at same time. We need to reset our expectations and stop treating any sort of delay as a failure on the part of the company making the hardware, app, or video game.
In the past, Apple hasn’t been perfect with its smartphone launches. It has its own Galaxy Fold-like battle scars. I’ve been in this game long enough to remember Antennagate in 2010. On release day, it emerged the iPhone 4’s cellular signal fell off a cliff when gripping the phone. I was working in an office with 3 or 4 tech mags and sites on the same floor. We couldn’t believe what we were seeing with our review units.
Steve Jobs – in one of the most arrogant, dismissive comments ever from a tech CEO – told people to just hold it differently. Then Apple gave users an ugly yellow silicone ‘bumper’ to protect the phone. Then it blamed the issue on a software error, that only visually showed the signal dropping off when in fact it wasn’t. It was a mess.
Then there was Bendgate with the iPhone 6, where new buyers placed their phones in their pockets and it came out rather banana-shaped. That’s not to mention the fiasco of the iOS 6 Maps app, which led to software chief Scott Forstall being not-to-politely dismissed, him leaving tech altogether and reinventing himself as a Tony Award-winning Broadway musical producer (fair play to him, that’s a fact I’ve just learned!).
When it’s good and ready
What I’m trying to say is, Apple has sent technically imperfect products out into the wild before. Often because it was rushing to meet tight release deadlines. It has learned those lessons the hard way. For example, there’ll never be another Maps fiasco, as Apple has got into the habit of delaying new software features – like the Universal Control between iPad and Mac – until they’re ready, rather than just launching them “in September”.
Although hardware and software hasn’t been completely free of issues in recent years (Batterygate and the butterfly keyboards on Mac, for instance), the company has learned getting it right is more important than getting it out when shareholders and Wall Street expect it, and when leaks and rumours dictate terms to the public.
I think Apple products have benefitted from what is essentially a supremely confident company. Confident in what it is launching, when it is launching it. So, when I see reports from display experts that Apple has delayed an iPhone Fold for a couple of years, it doesn’t require a negative spin.
That confidence and patience is justified. Apple’s record has shown that a sector only really changes when it arrives on the scene; whether that’s perceived to be late, or not. MP3 players, tablets, smartwatches, you name it. The same will apply to foldable phones and mixed reality, when those devices eventually launch, on Apple’s terms.
So, if an iPhone Fold arrives in 2023 or 2025, Apple fans can probably rest assured it would meet their expectations. As an industry, we would do well to reset ours. Not just for Apple, but for all tech companies whose products would arrive in better shape if they weren’t feeling pressured into hitting arbitrary release deadlines.