Why is Apple’s folding screen so "difficult to produce" when getting up early and catching up late?

Original Du Zhiqiang titanium media

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▎ If Apple’s folding screen is released in 2027, then, in the face of Samsung and Huawei, which have been marketized for nearly 10 years, can Apple still "crush it"?

Author | Du Zhiqiang

Edit | Zhong Yi

This article is the first titanium media APP.

Recently, Apple, whose market value has evaporated by more than one trillion yuan, has become the target of "singing down" in the market. As a product that contributed more than half, the sales of iPhone in China market plummeted by 24% at the beginning of the year, which attracted many investors’ concerns.

For the iPhone, although it occupies an absolute leading position in the global high-end smart phone market, the innovation of squeezing toothpaste every year attracts many users’ dissatisfaction. After the strong return of Huawei, the position of iPhone in China market has also been faltering. As far as the current environment is concerned, AI will be a lifeline for Apple in the short term, but the specific planning and application are still unknown.

"Users and the market want to see Apple make real innovations in the form and design of products such as iPhone, instead of Applying a set of molds for many years," an industrial chain person spoke to the titanium media app.

Folding screen, as a category that has been in mass production for 5 years, has become a sharp weapon for non-iOS mobile phone camp to break through in the high-end market, and the market is also looking forward to the release of Apple folding screen.

Although Apple’s style is "conservative" and the requirements for products are very high, the folding screen has been delayed, which also puzzles many fruit powders. Before, there were many rumors in the market, but in the end they all went away.

Judging from the current news, Apple’s folding screen has been developed for several years and will be released around 2027, the 20th anniversary of the release of the iPhone. However, at that time, in the face of Samsung and Huawei, which have been marketized for nearly 10 years, can Apple’s folding screen be "crushed by the latecomers"?

Mobile phone, tablet, PC, what will be Apple’s first folding screen?

Counterpoint predicts that by 2027, the global shipment of folding screen smartphones is expected to exceed 100 million units. CICC research also pointed out that the iteration of folding screen products will accelerate in 2022, and it is estimated that the global shipment of folding screen mobile phones is expected to reach 80 million units in 2025.

It is worth mentioning that statistics show that the interest rate of iOS users in folding screen mobile phones has reached 58%, and rumors about Apple’s folding screen planning and cancellation in the market have been constant.

At the beginning of the year, it was reported that Apple suspended the development of the foldable iPhone because of concerns about the durability of the folding screen. It is understood that Apple has been in contact with Samsung Display and LG Display before, but from the samples given, it still does not meet Apple’s standards, which is the main reason why Apple suspended the foldable iPhone project.

However, judging from the progress of related patents, Apple is still accelerating the layout of folding screen products.

A few days ago, the list published by the US Trademark and Patent Office showed that Apple obtained a patent on folding screen, covering a variety of products including iPhone, tablet computer and notebook computer. By making textured glass by chemical method, the problem of glass breakage at the folding place is solved. Moreover, it can effectively deal with the crease problem of the folding screen.

It is also reported that Apple transferred some core personnel of the Apple Vision Pro team to the folding screen project team, and internal executives revealed that the release of the first folding screen iPhone will be postponed until 2026, and more advanced technologies will be adopted, which is expected to be thinner and lighter than competitors’ models.

Regarding the release plan of this online foldable iPhone, Tianfeng International analyst Guo Ming Yi said that his latest survey shows that the only foldable product that Apple has a clear development schedule at present is the MacBook with a display of about 20.3, which is expected to be mass-produced in 2027.

In addition, the above-mentioned industry chain people told the titanium media App that Apple will enter the folding screen market with a high probability, but the test will be the iPad first, not the iPhone. Let’s look at the market reaction of the folding screen through the market reaction.

What is certain is that Apple has been developing foldable products for many years. What is uncertain is what Apple’s first foldable screen product will be, which may be a mobile phone, a tablet or a laptop.

Titanium Media App believes that from the perspective of market maturity, mobile phones and tablets are more likely. If it is a mobile phone, it will be listed on the occasion of the 20 th anniversary of the release of the iPhone. If it is a tablet, it is more likely to test the water first in 2026 and explore the road for the foldable iPhone in the following year.

Get up early and catch up with late episodes.

The picky apple is "too slow"

It has been more than five years since the release of the first mass-produced folding screen. In the past five years, the number of folding screen players has expanded from Samsung and Huawei to Xiaomi, OPPO, vivo and Glory, and the double-digit growth rate has also become a "clean stream" in the declining mobile phone market.

Although the current volume of the folding screen is not very large, one thing is certain, the direction of the folding screen is not wrong. In the view of Titanium Media App, the innovation of the current smart phone market has reached a bottleneck period. Before revolutionary innovation, folding screens are the right direction for mobile phone manufacturers to seek increments and enhance their experience.

Image source: IDC

According to the latest data released by IDC, the China folding screen mobile phone market shipped about 7.007 million units in 2023, up 114.5% year-on-year. Since the launch of the first product in 2019, the folding screen mobile phone market in China has grown by over 100% year-on-year for four consecutive years.

Guo Tianxiang, a senior analyst of IDC China, revealed to Titanium Media App that according to the forecast data of IDC in November 2023, the expected shipment of folding screen mobile phone market in China will be around 10 million in 2024, with the year-on-year growth rate still exceeding 50%, continuing the trend of rapid growth.

Talking about the rapid development of folding screen mobile phones, Zhao Jun, CEO of TCL Huaxing, told Titanium Media App last year, "About five years ago, folding mobile phones began to enter consumers’ field of vision. Three years ago, the market size of folding mobile phones was less than 1 million. This year, the market size of the whole folding mobile phone is close to 20 million, probably between 18 million and 20 million. The global shipment of folding mobile phones is basically growing at several times a year. We believe that folding mobile phones are the main innovation and growth point of product innovation and iteration in the field of smart phones. "

In an article about Apple Vision Pro, Vanity Fair revealed that on the edge of Infinite Loop in Apple’s old campus, there is an unremarkable low-rise building called "Mariani 1", which contains some imaginary products that Apple is developing, including the foldable iPhone.

Domestic folding screen products in 2023, titanium media App drawing

Compared with Samsung and Huawei, Apple’s research on foldable products is not too late, and may even be earlier. However, in terms of the progress of mass production and the attitude towards the market, Apple is much slower. Even if the product requirements are high, if the foldable product is released in 2026, it will be seven years later than Samsung and Huawei.

In contrast, Apple Watch is only two or three years later than Samsung. According to the incomplete statistics of Titanium Media App, in 2023, a total of 7 domestic brands released 13 folding screen products, including left and right folding and up and down folding. Among the head brands, Apple has not released related products.

In fact, it is understandable that the foldable project has been "difficult to produce" because Apple is so slow. On the one hand, folding screens are currently aimed at high-end user groups, which is a weapon for domestic brands to break through, and this is also the main battlefield of iPhone. From the perspective of sales volume, the core position of iPhone in the high-end market has not wavered. In addition, although the folding screen has a high growth rate, the tens of millions of volumes are still a small category compared with the annual sales of smart phones exceeding 1 billion. Therefore, the smaller competitive pressure has not made Apple feel a sense of urgency.

On the other hand, there are still many problems with folding screens, such as creases, especially small creases, which will become more obvious after long-term use. There are also the balance between thinness and performance, system-level optimization, etc., which are also the development problems faced by folding screens. But in the face of the future, there is still a question. By 2026, can Apple really solve these problems? Or can’t Huawei and Samsung solve it?

In addition, considering the impact of the iPhone in the market, even if the volume is currently small, Apple should indeed accelerate the mass production of folding screen products. Guo Ming said that the market consensus of iPhone shipment in 2024 was 220-225 million units, and now it has started to be repaired, and it is close to its previous forecast of 200 million units. Guo Tianxiang pointed out that the folding screen, which has greatly improved the product form, is more likely to attract consumers’ attention and stimulate their desire to change machines.

More challenges lie ahead.

For Apple, once the folding screen product is launched, the initial big sale is foreseeable, and its strict requirements will inevitably lead to the promotion of the entire foldable industrial chain. It is understood that Samsung Display is a panel company that has more scandals with Apple. It is reported that if Apple mass-produces folding screen products around 2026, it will be exclusively supplied by Samsung Display, which has supplied panels for Samsung folding screen mobile phones for many years, and it will be more suitable for Apple’s requirements in terms of production and technical maturity.

However, in the later stage, based on cost considerations, Apple will also cooperate with more panel manufacturers, just like the straight iPhone, which will promote the improvement of domestic panel supply chain technology. At present, in the folding screen supply chain, domestic products are on the rise, but we must also recognize the gap. For example, in the folding screen patent, according to Watt Intelligence, the folding screen patent obtained by Samsung Display is four times that of global competitors, and it is still far ahead.

As one of the most anticipated products in the market, in addition to the release time, there are still many challenges before Apple. First, how to set the price. As we all know, the current price of iPhone has exceeded 10,000 yuan. How to divide the price of foldable version from that of straight screen, and in which range, is something that needs careful consideration. After all, no matter how strong the product is, once the price exceeds five figures, many people will still be discouraged.

The second is how to balance the product form, lightness and performance, and the choice of folding form. Guo Tianxiang pointed out that "thinness" has become the primary factor affecting consumers’ choice of folding screen mobile phones. However, if the pursuit of "thinness" blindly leads to the decline of reliability, it will directly affect consumers’ long-term choices in the future.

At the same time, the overall cost of up and down discounts is lower, which will attract more female users. However, from the perspective of usage scenarios, the experience brought by big discounts will be better. IDC’s data also points out that although the price of vertical folding products is relatively lower, horizontal folding products have been favored by more consumers in China because they can better reflect the big screen experience of folding screen mobile phones.

"In 2023, the market share of cross-folded products increased to 68.1%, up 10.4 percentage points year-on-year. At present, in addition to being convenient to carry, consumers still lack the necessary use scenarios, and there is also a significant gap between the experience and the straight board machine at the same price, and there is still room for improvement in product quality. "

Finally, it is the experience of software. For a folding screen, if you just make the screen bigger, it will only make this category "chicken ribs". After doing a good job in hardware experience, how to make users feel the improvement brought by folding screen in software ecology is particularly important.

Guo Tianxiang told Titanium Media App that when everyone’s hardware enters a basically similar situation in the future, the software experience will become more and more important. To really make consumers use folding screen products for a long time, it is still necessary to create more suitable use scenarios through software and give full play to the characteristics and advantages of folding screens.

At present, the whole folding screen industry is still rushing, which is just Apple’s current "dilemma". More importantly, it may be to solve the problem of EU fines and accelerate the process of AI. As for the folding screen, what the market hopes is not to "skip the ticket". After all, the ten-year plan to build a car can be abandoned, and the foldable iPhone has to be a big question mark.

(This article is the first titanium media App)

Original title: "Why is Apple’s folding screen so difficult to produce?" 》

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