Where the heck is Apple’s foldable iPhone?

Foldable iPhone concept image
An unofficial concept image for a foldable iPhone (Image credit: Shutterstock / Wit Olszewski)

For a handful of years it’s been rumored that Apple may be working on a foldable iPhone, which has been unofficially dubbed the iPhone Flip by some. 

Now think 'flip' and your mind’s eye probably conjures the image of a Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5, which blends a retro clamshell phone design with a foldable OLED display and a suite of modern tech. But so far it’s not clear if Apple will make a folding phone in a simpler style as the Flip 5 or follow in the footsteps of the book-like Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5, OnePlus Open and Google Pixel Fold

But as it stands the foldable iPhone predominantly exists in the realms of rumor and speculation, with a few Apple patents thrown in for good measure. And somewhat frustrating, the rumors around a foldable iPhone have dried up, with nary a squeak out of leakers for some time. 

I had expected the rumor mill to slowly start churning again once the iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Pro models were released back in September. But that didn’t happen. 

So now the foldable iPhone/iPhone Flip's existence remains in question and I’m left pondering if Apple will indeed create a foldable phone or if it’ll stick with its standard handsets; at least until foldable phones become fully mainstream and their screen tech improves. 

To fold-ly go where other phones have gone before 

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 review

(Image credit: Future / Lance Ulanoff)

My first answer to this would be that Apple must have surely pondered the idea of some form of foldable device. A combination of folding patents and claims by reputable analysts like Apple oracle Ming-Chi Kuo put some weight behind this belief; Kuo has also noted that a foldable iPhone could arrive in 2025, having revised a former prediction that it could be released in 2024. 

Given the old adage of ‘there’s no smoke without fire’ I can fully buy into the idea that Apple may have a few prototype folding iPhones and iPads in the boxes of its HQ at Cupertino. Speaking to Techsponential president and analyst Avi Greengart, it would seem I’m not the only one thinking that. 

“I am absolutely convinced that there is a lab somewhere in Apple Park where designers have considered folding iPhones and iPads with various hinge designs, display technology, and form factors. I have no idea if Apple is preparing to actually launch such a product,” Greengart told me. 

And then there’s the fact that other phone makers have started to get more involved in making foldable phones. It would seem odd that Apple wouldn’t at least explore this as an option to take its iPhones next. That being said, Apple has yet to make a touchscreen laptop, while Windows machines have had touch-sensitive panels for ages, so there’s no knowing what trends Apple will follow and which it will seemingly stubbornly ignore. 

“We can have fun speculating whether Apple would be more interested in a fold-smaller iPhone, a fold-larger iPhone/iPad mini combo, or just a more compact folding iPad, but as long as sales volumes for today's foldables remain relatively small, Apple can afford to wait,” said Greengart. “As we saw with large screen sizes, once there is proven large-scale demand, Apple will enter the market. If Apple does launch a foldable, it will immediately stand out because Apple's software and ecosystem are unique.

The flipside to this is Apple doesn’t really need to make a phone that can hold a small tablet-like display. Cupertino’s iPads already top many a best tablets list, so it may not want to cannibalize the success of its iPads by offering an iPhone that could work as a form of mini iPad mini

Where iPhones and iPads meet 

There are surely people like me who’d love an iPhone that could act as a small iPad, meaning we’d not need to carry both an iPhone and iPad on our various travels. But I suspect I’d be in the minority here. And that the reason why iPhones are so popular is that they do indeed ‘just work’ and don't tend to overcomplicate things with odd form factors or features that don’t have an element of synergy with how people used iPhones. 

Equally, if Apple were to make a foldable device, I’d place a small bet that it would start with a foldable iPad. Rumors of such a device have bubbled up before, and I think a folding iPad makes a lot of sense. 

Apple has touted the creative elements of iPads, especially when used with an Apple Pencil. So I can envision as situation where a foldable iPad with a slot to hold an Apple Pencil, perhaps a slimmed down model, could be easily stored in a jacket pocket or purse, and then taken out and unfolded to be used as canvas to sketch scene on or pen notes upon; I’d call it an iBook or iNote.  

I feel the use cases for foldable phones have still yet to be fully established. I enjoy having a folding phone as my secondary device, but I’ve not committed to putting a SIM card in one, due to their overall bulk and a feeling that some areas have been compromised; until the OnePlus Open the rear cameras on folding phones have often felt a tad lackluster compared to their non-folding flagship counterparts. 

As such, I can see Apple only committing to a foldable device when it can fully nail the use case for them, bringing in custom apps that even the best foldable phones could only dream of. But that takes time and tends to require Apple developers to be on board as well. As such, the idea of a foldable iPhone or iPad not coming until at least 2025 makes sense to me. 

Ultimately, the secretive nature of Apple means we can’t really say exactly what’s happened to Apple’s rumored iPhone. Right now it feels like it was an idea Apple flirted with but decided to shelve for a bit. 

I hold out hope for a compelling foldable iPhone or iPad before too long, but for now the idea of an iPhone Flip lives rent-free in a quiet part of my tech-fan brain. 

You might also like

Managing Editor, Mobile Computing

Roland Moore-Colyer is Managing Editor at TechRadar with a focus on phones and tablets, but a general interest in all things tech, especially those with a good story behind them. He can also be found writing about games, computers, and cars when the occasion arrives, and supports with the day-to-day running of TechRadar. When not at his desk Roland can be found wandering around London, often with a look of curiosity on his face and a nose for food markets.