The 'iPhone Flip' is a cool concept, but foldable phones are useless for most people

Folding iPhone concept mock up
Folding iPhone concept mock up (Image credit: Rene Ritchie / iMore)

Ever since Motorola and Samsung released their foldable phones, people are clamoring for the next company to jump on the folding phone bandwagon. There have been lots of people hoping Apple makes an "iPhone Flip" or "iPhone Fold" a reality, and while I certainly agree that foldable phones are likely in our future, right now, they suck, and you shouldn't want one.

Cool concepts ≠ great products

Fold iPhone concept (Image credit: Rene Ritchie / iMore)

I promise you I have a heart, and I'm not dead inside. When I see a mock-up of an iPhone flipping or folding, I get excited. The concepts that fans have been making look amazing, and I do love the idea of having an iPhone that can do what these concepts do; however, I know that in reality, these concepts are nothing but fever dreams.

There are reasons why concept products that get shown off at conventions (car manufacturers do this all the time) rarely come to market — at least not in the form they are shown. Cool concepts don't make a product inherently good; the technology and usability need to be there for an actual product to make any sense.

How practical is a foldable iPhone?

It's easy to say that having an iPhone that can unfold into an iPad-like device would be useful, and in theory, it sounds cool, but how practical is it? I understand the love of big screens, but in a world where people think even a phone as big as the iPhone 11 Pro Max is too big, how is a foldable phone going to help them? Would it not just make more sense for that consumer to buy a smaller version of the iPhone, than buy one that can both be big and small?

The same can be said for the reverse situation. If you love big screens and want a big screen to do work on, chances are you're going to buy the biggest iPhone you can or upgrade to an iPad to get that screen real estate.

There's likely a very small subset of people who would need and utilize a foldable iPhone. In reality, it wouldn't be an iPhone that unfolds into an iPad; it would be an iPhone that unfolds into a larger iPhone — who needs that?

What advantages does a foldable phone give you?

Back before smartphones became big, flip phones were a huge deal. The original Motorola RAZR was one of the best selling clamshell phones that existed, but that was back in the time when our only options wear a candy bar phone or a flip phone.

Candy bar phones were generally a little more rugged (since they were all one piece), and perhaps a tad on the thick side. The only real advantage a flip phone had over a candy bar phone back in the day was its the ability to protect its number pad and main screen a bit better. Flip phones were naturally weaker in terms of durability because of their moving parts and thinner designs — and that hasn't changed.

Wait until the technology works

iPhones (Image credit: iMore)

I'm not saying that a foldable iPhone should never be a reality I'm pretty certain eventually Apple will make one, but that doesn't mean you should want one any time soon. The technology required to make foldable phones as reliable and user-friendly as they need to be impactful is just not here yet.

Remember, the Galaxy Fold original design was quite flawed, lots of people had a problem with them. This caused Samsung to delay the device and release a new and improved version, which still had tons of durability problems. Obviously, there's going to be some growing pains with any new technology, but when a company is expecting you to fork over thousands of dollars, the risk is just too great.

Of course, the new Galaxy Z Flip is off to a much better start, but there are still reports of durability issues, and long-term durability still remains a question mark since the device is so new.

On top of the hardware concerns, the software is another huge issue. A foldable screen brings a whole slew of usability problems along with it. How many apps will actually take advantage of a folding screen? Since it's up to developers to make those changes, it can be years after we get a foldable iPhone that all your favorite apps will even function properly on a foldable display. Think how long its been taking your favorite apps to come out with a Dark Mode — which is objectively a much smaller change to implement than a whole new display form factor would be.

A foldable iPhone likely will exist

I'm sure Apple is already exploring the idea of a foldable iPhone, it would be silly for them not to be at this point, but the research and development needed to get a foldable iPhone right will take time.

Lots of people like to blame Apple for not being innovative, but innovation needs a purpose. Innovation for the sake of innovation helps nobody, and I, for one, am more than happy to wait for a foldable iPhone that offers a clear usage for consumers and is as durable as possible. This is one case where Apple waiting to jump on a trend makes sense.

I don't wish the iPhone I have right now can flip or fold, and until Apple gives us a reason to think any different, everyone should stop flipping out about the idea of an iPhone Flip.

Luke Filipowicz
Staff Writer

Luke Filipowicz has been a writer at iMore, covering Apple for nearly a decade now. He writes a lot about Apple Watch and iPad but covers the iPhone and Mac as well. He often describes himself as an "Apple user on a budget" and firmly believes that great technology can be affordable if you know where to look. Luke also heads up the iMore Show — a weekly podcast focusing on Apple news, rumors, and products but likes to have some fun along the way. 

Luke knows he spends more time on Twitter than he probably should, so feel free to follow him or give him a shout on social media @LukeFilipowicz.