A folding iPhone could beat Samsung by fixing this one dusty problem

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4
(Image credit: Future / Lance Ulanoff)

Apple will reportedly get into the foldable device space next year with either a folding iPhone or, more likely, a folding iPad mini, but I think I know something they don’t: How Apple could beat Samsung and take a top spot among the best foldable phones.

Samsung’s commitment to the foldable device space is both admirable and quite laudable. Its Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 and Galaxy Flip 4 are easily the best foldable smartphones on the market. I’m a fan of both handsets for their design, cameras, productivity features, and cool extras like flex mode that make the Z Flip 4 such a great social media companion. In their excellence, though, I see an opening, a space where Apple can easily squeeze in and maybe leapfrog Samsung. And it’s all about dust.

Dusty Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 screen

(Image credit: Future)

When you carry around either the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 or Z Flip 4, they are invariably folded. The former wouldn’t fit in a standard pocket unfolded and the latter would, if placed in your pocket unfolded, leave the flexible display open to damage.

I’ve carried both handsets around for days at a time. Each time I took them out of my pockets and unfolded them, I noticed the same thing: a lovely dusting of snow. No, that's not right. It's icky dust. If I didn't know better, I'd think Samsung built a tiny vacuum inside these clamshell designs. It did not but it is as if the screens are hoovering up all the lightweight debris in my pockets.

As a result, the whole 7-inch Galaxy Z Fold 4 screen is covered in dust every time I take it out of my pocket. Same thing with the Galaxy Z Flip 4. It’s enough that I would reflexively grab a shovel and... sorry, I mean I would rub each screen on my shirt to quickly brush aside the dust. I did this because blowing didn’t really work.

This, though, creates an additional problem, especially on the Galaxy Z Fold 4. First, though, it helps to understand how these incredible bendable screens work.

If you open a Z Fold 4 and take a close look at the edges of the screen, you might notice how the display almost imperceptibly slides under the small plastic lip that runs around the screen. Without this space to move, the glass might bunch up when you fold the phone, and the glass would probably break. On the Z Flip 4, the lip is a little finer. Whenever I would brush aside the dust, it would collect along these edges. I had to blow away the remainder, which again didn’t always work.

Dusty Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4 screen

(Image credit: Future)

On Reddit I noticed a few posts complaining about dust buildup along these edges and along the gap that can appear between the flexible covering and that lip. The larger concern would be if any of that dust migrated under those coverings. That hasn’t happened to me, but, again on Reddit, there were a few reports of that issue on older Fold models.

Understand that the screen on my iPhone 14 Pro can occasionally emerge from my pocket with some snow...er...screen dust, too, but it’s nothing like this. From what I can tell, the folded screen is something of a dust magnet. I suspect it may be a static electric charge that builds up in the gap between the folded screen sides.

It’s annoying, but also, maybe, an opportunity for Apple.

If Apple is, in fact, working on a foldable iPhone (or iPad), it should pay close attention to this Galaxy Z Flip 4 and Galaxy Z Fold 4 frustration. I’m not sure how Apple might fix it, but it could start by putting a strong anti-static coating on the screens. Secondarily, Apple might investigate how to close that gap even further to keep out the dust. If not that, then maybe the folding iPad mini has little flaps that cover the flap when you fold it up.

Obviously, the dust situation is not a big enough issue to ward me or anyone else off Samsung’s foldables. It’s a minor concern, but Apple could, if it solves it, tout “dust-free foldables” in marketing materials as a gentle dig at Samsung.

On the other hand, Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 5 and Galaxy Z Flip 5 could arrive with the situation solved, as well. I wonder what else Apple could do to compete.

Lance Ulanoff
Editor At Large

A 38-year industry veteran and award-winning journalist, Lance has covered technology since PCs were the size of suitcases and “on line” meant “waiting.” He’s a former Lifewire Editor-in-Chief, Mashable Editor-in-Chief, and, before that, Editor in Chief of PCMag.com and Senior Vice President of Content for Ziff Davis, Inc. He also wrote a popular, weekly tech column for Medium called The Upgrade.

Lance Ulanoff makes frequent appearances on national, international, and local news programs including Live with Kelly and Ryan, the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNBC, CNN, and the BBC.