The technology press has to turn this thing to death, but it doesn't matter. Everything left over by Apple remains or their lack of innovation is not about to change the playbook that has made them one of the richest companies in the world. They will not come out with a new folding phone this year, no matter what someone says. Next year? May be. You can probably put money on it by 2021
But it is an eternity in the technological world, right? How can Apple be so late for the party? How could they not see this coming? Okay, let's get back to reality. Let's go ahead and get the obvious out of the way. Apple is never the first to do anything. GANG . They were not the first company to create a graphical GUI. They weren't the first to make portable music players. They were not the first to make tablets. Smartwatches. Wireless earphones. I could keep going, but if you can't do it now, you'll never.
Apple is always "late". Only how varies by category. They came to the phone game long after smartphones became a regular article. Tablets had been around for years. There were many music players before the iPod shook things up. Apple used to have the luxury of taking its time.
That's not the case anymore. Apple has had to move a little faster than they used to, because so many companies have done a good job of copying the business model. Samsung started its iPhone race with inexpensive knockoff designs packed with all sorts of features. But they got smart along the way and started using premium materials and actually paying attention to seeing and feeling. Huawai, once known for its cheap knockoffs, has also played their games and made high quality hardware at premium prices. Because the competition has become smarter and learned how to match and sometimes beat their own game, Apple has to adapt. They do not have the luxury of waiting long before they enter a new market with a shot to take over.
This new reality means things can go both ways for Apple, depending on how long it takes them to enter a new market and how quickly the competition can be hit and ahead of them. In the case of Apple Watch, several companies received a six-month to one year head. Then the first Apple Watch debuted for good reviews, but it was still not fully baked or ready to be a regular hit.
This did not stop Apple, as their Series One, Two, Three and Now Fire Watch releases have successively absorbed virtually all mindshare in the smartwatch room. There are still many other companies left on the market, some of which have cut out niches for themselves. But no other company has an ecosystem that even comes close to Apple Watch. This was a classic example of Apple coming late and pushing the floor with competition.
Although Apple Watch was a success, Apple does not always get the timing today. They were too late, too expensive and not polished enough with HomePod. When Apple finally got its first speaker out of the door, Amazon and Google had already prepared the rough edges and built meaningful ecosystems for their connected speakers. Apple was at least one year late for the market, and HomePod's sales and market share reflects that.
I own a HomePod and I love the sound quality, but it's not enough to spur regular sales of a connected speaker. Apple needs to improve Siri and expand the appeal from HomeKit. It seems like they're finally serious about doing both of these things, but they have a lot of reason to settle before HomePod and its successors are in the same conversation with Amazon and Google. This is the price of being late for the market.
So now we come to folding phones. Everyone who keeps up with mobile technology knew they were coming in the last couple of years. There are no secrets in tech anymore. It was just a matter of when to turn and who would be first. Now the dust finally ends on the first two big revelations from, you guessed it, Samsung and Huawai. To be honest, Samsung is just a glorified and very expensive technical demo. The phone section is difficult and it's just lumpy and bulky to throw together. This is not intended to disparage Samsung either. It's just a gene product in a new category.
Huawai's first foldable Mate phone looks much better than Samsung's offer, but it's still not without its inconvenience. It sports a plastic screen (blech) and clip to hold it in place. It's also an even more expensive gen a tech demo than Samsung's Galaxy Fold. However, I have to give Huawai props to come up with a much better and better designed first attempt than Samsung.
Now did anyone really expect Apple to come in on foldable phones right now? This is the very edge of the bleeding edge. This is just a little way past Google Glass, and pays a lot of money to be a glorious beta test site. Apple never does. Why should they start now? Apple Watch is the closest they have to the bleeding edge threshold, and it was still a whole year after the first mainstream smartwatches started beating the market.
You can also say the same about 5G, as Apple has never put the first gene cell radios in an iPhone. They wait at least a year until some of the errors are killed and the chip sets are optimized for more efficiency and better battery life. This time will not be different, since there are already reports from Intel that it will be 2020 too early to release a 5G radio for Apple. Again, this is what Apple does.
This is a good point for a small context. Apple always examines new products and form factors, and folding phones and displays are not different. In fact, Apple's first patent in this area was back in 2011. eight years ago. You can bet that there is already a working foldable iPhone prototype somewhere in Jony Ives laboratory. This is not a category that has snuck up on Apple. Not even close by. But none of this tells us when Apple will make a move or where the market will be when it happens.
The key factor for Apple's success or failure of collapsible devices is going to come down to the timing. Samsung, Huawai and others will not stand still in the meantime. They should learn from their first hardware and quickly make improvements. These two companies have proven that they can make quality hardware and fine-tune things quickly. As with connected speakers, if Apple waits a long time, they enter the foldable market significantly behind.
All that said, I don't think Apple will make this mistake if … ..F this looks like a worthy category to come in. It will probably be, but there have been other innovations that have gone flat in it last. If foldable fizzle as 3D phones did years ago, Apple will pass. Again, I think that foldables eventually become popular when prices come down to current premium smartphone levels, but it may take a while.
So what will Tim Cook do? Will Apple post folds fray next year to typical Apple prices? It's a tough one. I'd like to see them be aggressive this time, but my gut tells me that it will be late 2020 to 2021 before we see a folding iPhone. Until then, you can bet that there will be an endless stream of rumors to stay in the company.