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A folding screen is just what the iPhone needs, but don’t expect it anytime soon

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At long last, the first folding phone from Samsung is nearly a reality. At its developers conference keynote yesterday, the phone maker showed off its new Infinity Flex display along with a proof-of-concept prototype of what will soon become the world’s first folding Galaxy phone.

It’s likely to be a very expensive niche product when it launches in 2019, but one thing is clear: phones are moving beyond rounded rectangles. After several false starts with curved, two-sided, and split-screen handsets, it’s safe to say that folding is the future of the smartphone, with the sort of 2-in-1 design that was previously unthinkable on a pocketable device.

And with Google on board from the outset, it won’t just be Samsung trying its hand at folding phones. Like it was with phablets, every major Android phone maker will soon have their own version of the folding phone, and before long the displays at your local Verizon or T-Mobile store will look quite different than they do now.

Except the iPhone. With no indication that Apple will be changing its design for the 2019-2020 season, Apple is once again going to be sitting on the sidelines for the start of another revolutionary shift. Assuming folding phones became a thing—and I believe they will, Samsung’s chunky prototype notwithstanding—everyone’s is going to be looking to Apple to show them all how’s it’s done. And one day they will. It just won’t be anytime soon.

Slow, steady, and when it’s ready

You don’t have to be a student of history to see that Apple isn’t swayed by industry trends. If you recall, a full three years passed between the time the first 5.3-inch Samsung Galaxy Note landed and ushered in the era of the big-screen phone until the first 5.5-inch iPhone arrived, and it was even longer before Apple offered an OLED phone.

samsung folding phone closedSamsung

Samsung beating Apple to market with new tech isn’t anything new.

But Apple doesn’t wait just to wait. It releases products when they’re ready and refined, not when people want them, whether or not that aligns with the current trend. While Apple Watch wasn’t the first wearable, its September 2014 unveiling was near the forefront of the wearables revolution. So were AirPods. And of course, there’s Touch ID and Face ID, both of which spawned a slew of imitators. Simply put, Apple operates under its own timeline, and rarely does it feel the pressure to rush. (See: Homepod.)

But Apple certainly isn’t afraid to change things on its iPhone for the sake of progress, and I’m quite sure it’s spending tons of time and money researching folding displays. But the biggest reason to be hopeful for a folding iPhone display is a much simpler one than industry trends and historical milestones: the notch.

Screen shift

Love it or hate it, the iPhone X’s notch was a radical departure from anything Apple had done before. It reimagined symmetry and immersiveness within the confines of what was possible and (relatively) affordable, without sacrificing the advancements Apple wanted to make with the front camera.

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