Transition from LCD to OLED in iPhones also put pressure on margins
It seems Apple is yet to decide whether it will launch an foldable iPhone as TheElec could find no visible preparation in the company’s supply chain to launch such a model.
Some media reports point to a 2023 launch of such a model. But for such a launch date, Cupertino would need to have a specific product plan by the second half of 2021 as it usually starts co-development with its partners at least two to three years prior to a product launch.
Apple also designates its partners for materials and components of its products after their design is complete but there has been visible movement in the foldable panel supply chain.
Samsung Display and LG Display, Apple’s suppliers for OLED panel, will need to begin massive investment in early 2022 for a 2023 launch of a foldable iPhone. Cupertino is known not to rush product launches, so even if it sets up a supply chain for the foldable product by the end of this year, the commercial launch will likely be around 2024.
There are multiple consideration for a panel to get the go-ahead for a commercial rollout __ it will require the OLED material set, curvature radius and cover window technologies that would be used to be fail-proof.
Samsung Display only began commercially manufacturing foldable OLED panels in 2019, which it provided for Samsung Electronics’ Galaxy Fold. Despite subsequent improvements, Samsung Display is still in active development to improve the durability and usability of its foldable panels. It is an impressive technology no doubt, but hardly complete.
Apple will also consider the profitability of launching a foldable iPhone. It is currently transitioning from liquid crystal display (LCD) to OLED for its iPhones. OLED panels are pricier, which means if Apple launches only OLED iPhones, its margin rate may drop. A person working at a company that is part of Apple’s supply chain told TheElec that number of OLED iPhones will likely overtake LCD iPhones in the second half of 2022. Apple still needs time to consider its position before launching a foldable iPhone.
However, Apple likely has a foldable iPhone in its roadmap. The company is filing for related patents and its has mini-projects related to foldable panels. But these mini-projects are just that, another person familiar with the matter said, not spun off from a major project to launch a foldable iPhone. Apple is reviewing foldable panels, but it is currently lukewarm in launching a set (product), the person said.
Ultra-thin glass and polyimide cover windows also need to support stylus. Samsung is yet to launch a foldable phone that supports the S Pen due to durability issue. Samsung is researching was to support stylus such as making the folding area thin and the remaining area think for the ultra-thin glass.
Samsung sold 2.5 million units of foldable smartphones last year. This was only half of its target of 4.5 million units to 5 million units. Apple will likely keep a close eye on Samsung’s launch on foldable smartphones this yea to consider market reaction, consumer experience and completeness of foldable technology.