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Over the years, I've had the privilege to test hundreds of smartphones made by countless companies, and I don't remember a time when I've felt so apathetic towards phones. More specifically, towards the overall design of modern smartphones.
It doesn't matter if it's a phone made by Google, Apple, Samsung, Motorola, or OnePlus. They all look mostly the same. They're rectangular slabs of glass with camera bumps on the back, which is also commonly covered in glass.
Actually, I can't say that I'm totally disinterested in modern smartphones. There's plenty of fancy tech inside the likes of the iPhone 13 Pro and the Pixel 6 Pro -- both of which are two of my favorite phones released in 2021.
However, there is one area of the smartphone industry that's not only -- finally -- caught my interest over the last few months but has me incredibly excited for the future of smartphones and, for that matter, mobile devices as a whole.
I'm talking about phones with foldable displays, or at the very least, a foldable design. I've had the pleasure of using Microsoft's Surface Duo 2 and the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 in the latter months of 2021, and it's clear to me, now, that foldable phones will play a part, if not a major part, in our mobile computing future.
Outside of a few rumors, there's no indication that Apple has plans to release a foldable phone of its own anytime soon. And that's a shame because foldable phones are something Apple should, without a doubt, be working towards.
Why? I have three main takeaways from my time with two different takes on foldable phones that I think make a case for a foldable iPhone.
The popularity of phablets made it clear that phone owners enjoy using devices with larger displays. Even as smartphones keep growing in size, but I think we're starting to reach the limit of what people are willing to carry around.
So what do you do when customers have shown strong interest in devices with larger displays? You fold the display in half, of course. It's crazy that I'm even able to write that sentence and take it seriously, but thanks to Samsung's willingness to develop and manufacture foldable phones and customers willing to be effectively beta testers of said technology, the technology has matured.
A foldable phone is effectively two devices in one, lending itself to be used as a familiar standard-sized device or as a larger tablet-like device.
Multitasking. A bigger screen means it's easier to do multiple things at once
A larger display makes for a more immersive experience while doom scrolling through your TikTok or Twitter feed, but it also enables much faster and more intuitive multitasking than a standard phone does.
In my review of the Duo 2, I talked about my Aha! moment when I had two apps open, one on each display, and moved back and forth between the two of them without any hesitation or additional work.
I've had several similar instances when using the Z Fold 3 on the inside screen. Samsung allows for more than just two apps to be open at the same time, but I've been primarily using two apps side by side. For example, I often have Twitter open on the left side of the screen and Spark email on the right side. I'm able to go through and triage my inbox while also keeping up on any breaking news in my timeline.
Setting aside multitasking for a minute, having a bigger screen to do everyday tasks like browsing the internet, reading articles or combing through a work document is just better on a bigger screen.
Choice leads to a better overall experience
I used to pan the design of the Z Fold as confusing for the user because it forced owners to decide which screen to use and when. I was wrong.
Having options of which screen to use when you want to use it is a huge selling point that I didn't understand until I spent a healthy amount of time using the Z Fold 3 myself. And by using it, I mean more than just tapping around a few apps and looking at apps in split-screen mode. I mean setting it up as my main phone and carrying it in place of my iPhone.
As time goes by, I've found how I use the Z Fold 3 to be constantly changing. For example, I started out using the phone's front screen for most tasks, switching to the larger screen only for specific tasks like reading a long email.
A month later, I now spend most of my time using the inside screen, relegating the front display to quickly read a text message or scroll through my Feedly account.
Giving users options can be a bad thing if they're not well thought out and implemented, but even the Duo 2 and all of its gesture and multitasking quirks gives its users' options, improving upon the overall user experience that current smartphone owners are accustomed to.
I do not doubt that a team within Apple is already testing the technology the company would need to make an iPhone with a foldable display. Whether or not the device is ever released is anyone's guess, but for the sake of competition, at the very least, I hope it happens. The sooner, the better.
Allow me to put on my Apple engineering hat for a moment and posit what a foldable iPhone would look like.
I'd make the front display, and thus the phone's size when it's closed, roughly the same size as the iPhone 13 Pro. Unlike the Z Fold 3, which has a far too narrow front screen, I'd want the foldable iPhone's front screen to have minimal bezels. The downside of the Z Fold 3's narrow display is that some apps don't display properly, with text on the right side of the screen cut off. Also, the keyboard feels way too cramped to type long messages on comfortably.
When I place an iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro (they have identical dimensions and screen size) next to each other, the overall size is slightly bigger than the Z Fold 3 when it's opened.
I think if Apple were to use the iPhone 13 Pro Max as the basis for dimensions, the size would be too wide for most to type on and navigate the interface comfortably.
Apple could use Face ID on the front screen to secure the iPhone and enable Apple Pay payments while also including a Touch ID fingerprint reader in the side button, just like the iPad Air and iPad Mini currently have. The side button could be used to unlock the device when it's open, eliminating the need for a notch on both displays.
Speaking of the iPad Mini, I envision a foldable iPhone looking a lot like the smallest tablet in Apple's lineup, only slightly smaller.
As far as software is concerned, most of the groundwork is already there in iOS and iPadOS. Ideally, a foldable iPhone would run some sort of hybrid OS, utilizing iOS on the front screen and then iPadOS on the internal display.
With iPadOS powering the larger display experience, you're still going to have access to the split-screen and slide over multitasking features that iPad users currently have access to.
Of course, the front screen would look and work just like the iPhone does right now. A single column view with a single app on the screen at any given time.
It's hard to imagine a foldable iPhone without Apple Pencil support, but that also means Apple will need to shrink down the Apple Pencil in order for it to match the height of the iPhone so it can be attached to the side and wirelessly charge via magnets, just like the second-generation Apple Pencil does right now.
A lot of the groundwork is there for Apple's foldable phone, it now comes down to whether or not the technology for a folding display and, I'd wager, battery life can meet Apple's standards.
As I said earlier, I've really enjoyed using the Z Fold 3 and Duo 2 over the last few months. In fact, I've enjoyed using Samsung's foldable so much that I bought one of my own after returning a review sample to AT&T.
(Side note: For what it's worth, I wasn't willing to pay $1,800 for the Z Fold 3. Instead, I patiently and obsessively monitored Swappa for a good deal. I ended up buying a new-in-box Z Fold 3 for $1,075. Not bad, right?)
I still have the Duo 2 review sample Microsoft sent me, and I plan on to routinely go back to using it just to keep the feel of the experience that two separate displays brings.
So, thanks, Microsoft and Samsung, for giving me something to get excited about again. Hopefully, I'll be able to say the same about Apple in the near future.
What do you think? Should Apple release a foldable phone? If so, what do you envision it looking like? Let me know in the comments below.