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After Samsung's Z Flip, Could Apple Follow Suit With Its Own Folding Device?

A group of analysts at UBS predicted last year that Apple may release its own folding device, most likely a tablet, in 2021.
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Is the third time a charm with Samsung’s newest folding phone?

On Tuesday, the Korean tech giant unveiled the Galaxy Z Flip, a new $1380 phone that unfolds into a full-size display, or into a split-screen dual display. Early reactions to the new phone were generally positive, and Samsung is no doubt hopeful that the Z Flip will make more of a splash than the Galaxy Fold and Galaxy Fold 2, which it released last year to largely poor reviews.

“To some extent, this is Samsung experimenting to see what works, iterating on design and durability,” said Peter Jarich of GSMA Intelligence.

Jarich noted that among network operators he’s heard from, a strong majority expect that folding phones will be offered through their channels. It’s less clear when, or if, folding phones will go mainstream among smartphone vendors.

“How long till every vendor has foldable phones? I don’t know -- but Samsung certainly sees this coming and wants to get ahead of it,” Jarich added.

Based on promotional materials that Samsung released, the tech giant appears to be targeting a younger audience with the Z Flip. As seen in a video showcasing the devices, unique use cases made possible by the dual display mode include watching video and typing at the same time, the ability to take photos and selfies in multiple modes, and other features that may appeal to younger customers.

"Samsung is targeting a different audience, which is smart,” added Patrick Moorhead, president of Moor Insights & Strategy. “I believe the Flip will be a market success assuming there aren't any reliability gotchas."

Samsung isn’t the only vendor with a folding phone in the marketplace: Motorola released a folding Razr phone in 2019 that, like the Z Flip, unfolds into a full display. Huawei also sells the Mate X, a phone that unfolds along a vertical seam into a small tablet.

As for Apple undefined, Samsung's chief rival, a collection of patent filings spurred speculation that the iPhone giant could someday release a foldable device of its own. 

In early February, as spotted by Apple Insider, Apple filed a patent for a folding mechanism that doesn't leave a crease. And last year, analysts at UBS analyzed intellectual property filings by Apple and predicted that it could release a folding device -- likely a tablet, rather than a phone -- by 2021. The UBS analysts also conducted a survey indicating "generally higher interest among Apple buyers for foldable products.” 

“It's hard to say if we're looking at a new category or a fad, but we'll certainly see more phones with a foldable format. Phones all look pretty much the same today and despite what their makers would have us believe, they all do pretty much the same things,” added Andrew Moore-Crispin of Ting Mobile. “One thing you can guarantee is that if the Flip Z and Motorola's Razr flip are successful, there will be duplications, iterations and variations on the theme.”

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