Why Apple lags behind in the foldable device race

Why Apple lags behind in the foldable device race

A dozen companies have announced that they’re working on a foldable phone or foldable display. Among them, some of the biggest names in the mobile industry such as Samsung, Huawei, Lenovo and Xiaomi. But one company is missing from this list: Apple.

The richest, most valuable company in the world doesn’t seem to have any concrete plans to step in the flexible display game anytime soon. Apart from a few patents that have been published, there are no signs that the tech giant from Cupertino is working on flexible electronics. Apple news site MacRumors wrote that Apple is cooperating with LG to start developing a foldable OLED display for a future iPhone, but these rumours were unconfirmed by Apple. Are they lagging behind, or are they working in secret on a device that transforms an iPhone into an iPad on the fly?

Universal apps

Software-wise Apple has everything in place. Apple has encouraged developers since the introduction of the iPad to make ‘universal’ apps, which scale the user-interface on the fly when run on an iPhone or iPad. Their own apps act accordingly. A foldable device could run these apps without any adaptations. When folded open, the iPad version of the app runs. When folded to a smaller size, the iPhone version runs.

Apple is notoriously secretive about their future plans and development. They don’t announce devices until they’re available to buy. Their publicity policies and non-disclosure agreements are the strictest in the business and leaking internal information will get you fired immediately. That hasn’t prevented sources in the past to leak new iPhones, iPads and Apple Watches. In the case of foldable devices, no such leak has happened. Which can mean two things: no such device is in development, or they are working on it but they’ve managed to keep the lid tighter than ever.

No own display factories

There’s one major limiting factor for Apple: they have always sourced their displays from other vendors, such as Samsung and LG. Apple does not have their own display factories or R&D facilities. Tim Cook’s company depends on the goodwill of other companies to provide them with the key technology for flexible devices. But Samsung and LG have their own handset business, they compete directly with Apple. Why should they license their latest technology and offer their limited production capacity to Apple?

Apple may turn to other display producing companies who don’t have their own handset business, such as BOE or Tianma, but the question remains whether they can scale up production fast enough to meet the undoubtedly large demand for an ‘iPhone F’, or whatever it will be called. We’ll have to wait and see. Apple aficionados can’t wait to get their hands on such a device, judging by the reactions to Xiaomi’s prototype revealed earlier this week.

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