By John Gruber
Turn your developer product into a movement. Get your DX Checkup.
Actual headline on ZDNet this week: “Apple Needs a Foldable iPhone Soon or iPhones Won’t Be Worth Buying”. Philip Berne writes:
Since I bought my iPhone 14 Pro, much cooler phones have come along, and all of them are foldable phones. If Apple doesn’t make a foldable iPhone soon, there won’t be any excitement left, and Apple’s phones will be hard to recommend against the new innovations.
The promise of a foldable device — pocketable folded, tablet-sized unfolded — is obvious. I’ve often held up the super-thin foldable tablets on Westworld as a vision for the future. But the key adjective there is “super-thin”. Double-thick foldables strike me as a niche, and today’s foldables are double-expensive, not just double-thick. Samsung’s new Fold 5, the phone that prompted Berne’s clickbait column, starts at $1,800, and offers no dust resistance, only water.
A decade ago Apple was late to the big-ass phone game. We called them “phablets” then; we call them “phones” now. Those big Android phones were selling well. In a 2013 presentation for planning the company’s 2014 strategy (which became public during discovery in the Apple v. Samsung lawsuit), Apple itself described the situation thus: “Consumers want what we don’t have.” (The first larger-screen iPhone, the iPhone 6 Plus, was announced in September 2014.)
I would wager heavily there were no “Consumers want what we don’t have” slides at Apple this year regarding foldables.
In 2022, the foldables category occupied 1.1% of global smartphone shipments, but it scored a vital presence in the ultra-premium segment, taking about 7% of shipments of smartphones priced above $800. According to Counterpoint Research’s Global Foldable Smartphone Market Forecast, Q3 2022, the global foldable smartphone market is expected to reach 22.7 million units in 2023.
1 percent of total phones and 7 percent of $800+ phones are not big numbers, and I find that 7 percent figure very hard to believe. Here’s a recent report from another firm, Canalys, which lists the top 15 $500+ best-selling phones in the world for Q1 2023. The only foldable on the list, in 10th place, is Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip4. Not a single book-style foldable on the list, and the Z Flip4 was only a hair ahead of the iPhone SE.
Foldables — book-style, flip-style, or both — may well become a thing, but they are not yet a thing, because the technology isn’t there yet to make them compelling. (Including simply making them dust resistant.)
The Galaxy S23 Ultra is my favorite phone, and tops our best phones list, because it does everything and more. It’s practically a laptop computer stuffed into a phone. Apple isn’t about stuffing. Apple is about refinement.
Doing more than everything is quite an accomplishment. I’m 110 percent surprised I haven’t heard more about this.
Apple, I’ve got good news. The iPhone is refined enough. It is refined well beyond what other manufacturers even care to accomplish. Other phone makers could build a phone that pays just as much attention to detail, they just don’t care to do so. It isn’t worth the effort or cost.
Other basketball players could play as well as Michael Jordan, they just don’t care to do so. It isn’t worth the cost or effort.