A foldable iPhone? That’s the latest rumor, with Apple reportedly on track to join Samsung and Huawei in a growing group of devicemakers planning to
Here at CNET, we’ve been batting around what we’d want in such a device — and why we’d want a foldable phone in the first place.
As a category, the brave new form of foldable phones promises double the screen real estate in a smaller footprint. That will equal more raw screen space for you, and also shake up the flat-slab-of-glass design that’s reigned over us all since the iPhone’s 2007 debut.
Apple, Samsung’s and Huawei all have the R&D dollars and engineering smarts to throw behind a foldable phone. But even if Apple’s foldable phone is years behind a competitor’s, Apple’s status as a mainstream leader could turn a “niche” foldable phone for early adopters into a “must-have”.
The question is, what will a successful foldable iPhone look like? It could mimic 2017’s ZTE Axon M, whose two screens open like a book and whose software let you go full-screen, use two apps side-by-side and mirror the screen with the same app on both displays. Or it could take on a new design entirely — perhaps a single, foldable internal screen that flexes and bends.
Whatever it ends up looking like, here are the highest priorities that a foldable iPhone would have to address.
It must look like a standard iPhone in “folded” mode
Whether Apple sticks to a design from a previously discovered patent application or attempts something new, it’s got to look like a familiar iPhone when it’s in its most compact state.
ZTE acknowledged that most of the time, its foldable Axon M will be used like today’s shingle-shaped devices. Two screens that fold open like a book presents some use cases with great potential, but above and beyond, a foldable phone’s “resting” state needs to feel normal, or nobody will want to use it at all.
It needs to unfold into an iPad
How do you make a foldable iPhone different than an iPad? In a perfect world, a smaller-package device that folds out into a full-size iPad would, in essence, replace the iPad, and of course throw in voice and data capabilities right from the start.
We’d want a foldable iPhone to adopt iPad features, too, like split screen mode for making inboxes and emails easy to read and manage. The second screen could host a separate app, and contain a mode to configure itself into a digital keyboard, giving you a tiny workstation that you can pack up and take with you when you’re done.
Oh, and whether or not it can be stored in the foldable iPhone’s body, it should support Apple’s Pencil stylus, too.
It needs to double-down on Face ID
The iPhone X is the only iPhone with Face ID, but we expect Apple to roll this out to future iPhones and other devices, including — eventually — iPads and Macbooks. And that means it’ll be on our fantasy 2020 foldable iPhone, too.
But before we get there, Face ID needs to level up. Besides becoming better overall — working nearly every time, identifying your face at deeper angles and even horizontally — the foldable iPhone will need two selfie cameras: one above the front “external” screen, and one for the fold out “inside” screen. ZTE’s Axon M has just one, and using it requires you to flip the phone around, which is inconvenient as anything.
More importantly, Face ID on a foldable iPhone would need to become dual-screen aware. In other words, you’d need to be able to unlock the phone in “closed” mode, and have it remain so when you unfold it. Or, vice versa.
Siri will need to become dual-screen savvy, too
I’ve already bemoaned how far behind Siri has fallen compared to Google, Amazon and even Microsoft’s voice assistants. Results are often less varied, accurate and helpful than those three.
While any Apple product would benefit from better, smarter Siri, the assistant could do double duty on a foldable iPhone.
Imagine you unfold the iPhone and then command, “Hey Siri, open Super Mario Run in full screen mode.” “Hey Siri, open YouTube in mirror mode.” “Hey Siri, open Safari and Maps.” The point is, you don’t want Siri doing its thing on the “wrong” screen. That’s gonna take some serious contextual programming.
A foldable iPhone needs to be a better iPhone
A foldable iPhone would be the new king of the hill for Apple, with a nosebleed price not for the faint of heart. That’s why it would also have to be a better iPhone. It can’t afford sacrifice usability, camera quality wireless charging or battery life to make it fold — or else few buyers will take it seriously.
It wouldn’t hurt if our fantasy features for upcoming models — from an in-screen fingerprint reader to a USB C connector — need to be baseline requirements in the foldable model.
A foldable iPhone needs to be a great foldable phone, period
Whether iPhone, Android or some other future OS, a good foldable phone will need certain to hit plenty of basic design considerations, too, like:
- The design should be balanced and comfortable to hold
- Must be durable, with good build quality. (because a foldable design obviates the possibility of a traditional case). Hinges and folding parts can’t wear and break
- Must be easy to do everyday things, like take photos and text
- Can’t sacrifice most important features, like an excellent camera
- Must figure out how to get long battery life without making the phone heavy or imbalanced
- Optimized apps and games that take advantage of both screens (like the Nintendo 2DS)
- It must be easy to switch amond screen modes (e.g. full screen, dual screen)
- Apps should remember which of these modes you prefer
- Let motion mean something. If you have an app open, unfolding the phone could automatically launch into full-screen mode, and vice versa