Forrester CEO Thinks Apple Needs To Build A Foldable iPhone

Everybody can agree that Apple’s next couple of iPhones need to be more than just iterative updates. From the design to the hardware to iOS, Apple clearly needs to do… more. 

But some people like to take that idea of "more" to ludicrous extremes. Usually it is some obscure blog trying to make a name for itself (if ever so briefly). Other times it happens to be the founder and CEO of one of the largest and most respected industry analyst groups in the world.

Forrester's Chief Wants Smartphones To Fold

Forrester CEO George Colony posted an entry on his “Counterintuitive CEO Blog” at Forrester on Tuesday titled, "Apple's Foldable Future." The post talks about how Apple must go big with the iPhone 6 (not the iPhone “5S” expected later this year, but the version after that) and he suggests the “foldable smartphone.” 

Yes, foldable. Like, you know, a towel or a piece of paper. 

Colony writes:

Without any inside knowledge of Apple or other makers' plans, I believe that the coolest future smartphones will fold. To demonstrate, take the current iPhone 5, lengthen it by 1.5 inches, widen it by an inch, make it 30% thinner, then fold the whole thing in half. In your hand... you would be holding a square device with a full screen of icons, video, pictures - ready to make a call or open an app.

But when you open the phone, you would have a massive screen (there's display glass on both sides of the device) with a diagonal of nearly seven inches. That's bigger than the non-folding Galaxy Note 2 which is often called a "phablet" in polite circles and "the sandal" in rougher company.

Let’s ignore the obvious caveat here where Colony admits that he has absolutely no idea if this is something that Apple would do. Colony’s view on foldable computing is pie in the sky thinking at best. Delusional at worst. 

Dual Screens & Bendable ≠ Foldable

Over the last several years several companies have demonstrated the concept of “bendable” displays. Nokia had a bendable display showcased in its research and development kiosk at Nokia World in London in October 2011. Samsung has shown off the bendable displays at multiple trade shows. Apple, as far as we know through various patent submissions, is working on curved glass displays, possibly for the release of the so-called “iWatch.” 

In addition, several concepts of the “dual screen” smartphone have emerged over the past couple of years at trade shows like Mobile World Congress and the Consumer Electronics Show. None of them have worked particularly well, gotten anywhere near a decent review or been mass produced by whatever manufacturer thought it up. 

But dual-screen and bendable displays do not a “foldable” smartphone make. While those are interesting concepts in their own right, they don't appear to be what Colony is getting at - a single-screen device that could folded to be bigger or smaller. (Let's hope he's thinking of something more than the next generation of the once-popular flip phone.)

Foldable = Formidable

To his credit, Colony admits building a foldable smartphone would definitely be a challenge.

Now this won't be easy. The hinge technology will have to be an engineering marvel, and making the folding crease of the screen invisible will pose problems in materials, optics, and touch technologies.

The basic concept that Colony is getting at, outside of the “foldable computing is cool and the future” part (which I do not quite buy), is that a foldable iPhone/iPad device would turn what is basically an iPhone into a small tablet with a fold. This could be a more sophisticated approach to the “phablet” concept of very large smartphones, like the Galaxy Note II (which has a 5.55-inch screen).

(See also Samsung Galaxy Note II: The Tale Of The Comically Large Smartphone.)

Phablets, on a conceptual level, remain controversial. Mobile analytics company Flurry, which tracks nearly a billion smartphones and tablets worldwide, notes that phablets are likely a fad. The entire “small tablet” category (from 7-inches to 8.4-inches) remains very small, despite devices like Google’s Nexus 7, Amazon’s Kindle Fire and Apple’s own iPad Mini. Sure, those devices are relatively new, but their market share is even tinier than their screens.

Look past the foldable phone, though, and Colony does make an important point. Whether it be a foldable iWhatever or some other type of moon shot, Apple clearly needs a huge win with the iPhone 6. If the company does not achieve that, Colony argues, Apple could very easily turn into the next Sony – a once-great company that  grew stagnant and no longer sets the agenda for cutting-edge innovation.

"Foldable" iPhone concept photos from Forrester.