I want a "foldable" iPhone. Now.
I'm certain I'm not alone in this desperate desire. In fact, a foldable iPhone could - potentially - replace the 1+ billion smartphones and the 4+ billion mobile phones in use around the world, along with the several hundred million eReaders, tablets and phablets. It's the one device to conquer them all. The world is waiting for this, Apple.
Unless, of course, you believe, as ReadWrite's Dan Rowinski does, that a foldable computing device is half flip-phone silliness and half pie-in-the-sky unrealizable ambition.
A Foldable iPhone Won't Be Easy
On Tuesday, Rowinski dismissed the very idea of a foldable iPhone, as originally suggested by Forrester CEO George Colony:
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.
As Rowinski notes, the many companies that have hyped dual-screen smartphones and "bendable" displays have so failed to deliver compelling products.
Fair enough. And a truly foldable screen would no doubt be even harder to build.
But you know what other things didn't work until Apple created them? A full touchscreen smartphone. Tablets for the masses. Now, iPhone and iPad contribute more to Apple's value than anything else - and have made the company the richest in all of tech-dom.
The Screen's The Thing
There's also another element to all this that suggests Apple could already be thinking about such a device. When you consider the trajectory of Apple's product introductions over the past few years, there's a clear obsession with display technology - embodied by the inexorable spread of Retina Displays across the company's product line. Then there's iCloud, designed to put all your files, all your data, n the cloud where it's instantly accessible from any Apple device. Or rather, any Apple screen. Apple's goal it seems, is for everything to disappear - except for the screen.
And what better screen than a foldable version that could be configured in whatever size you need at the time?
It's About Much More Than The iPhone 6
The one point I don't agree with either Rowinski or Forrester's Colony is the notion that Apple must deliver a "huge win" with the iPhone 6.
Hugely profitable, Apple remains in a solid second-place position, after Samsung, in global smartphone sales. An iPhone 6 that is not a "moon shot," as Rowinski argues for, or is somehow "boring," as Colony suggests, could still easily sell in numbers equivalent to the massively successful iPhone 5.
Besides, focusing on the iPhone 6 misses the point. The foldable form factor should not be limited to one smartphone or designed to challenge a specific "phablet." That's selling the concept way short. Rather, a foldable iPhone would be an entirely new product and form factor capable of revolutionizing multiple categories of mobile devices.
In fact, a "foldable iPhone" would be the device that killed the iPhone, that cannibalized the iPad, made the MacBook Air redundant and made an iWatch or Apple Television unnecessary. Apple could, in one fell swoop, create a product that would replace its most popular products while simultaneously offering even greater value to even more customers.
What Would A Foldable iPhone Take?
A major user interface change would not be required. Apple could continue to support app developers just as it does today, simply by adhering to a "folding" standard like the ISO does for A Series paper. Each fold would conform to specific height-and-width dimensions, and apps would populate within the screen dimensions accordingly.
When could we possibly expect such a device - if ever? Who knows? As Forrester's Colony writes:
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.
No, this will not be easy.
But consider the potential of such a device: All your data continually available to you everywhere you go - all on a single screen that fits in your hand, can slip inside your pocket, can be quickly transformed into a larger-screen tablet or e-reader and could even serve as a small television. Who wouldn't want a device like that?
"Foldable" iPhone concept photos from Forrester.