A supply chain report says that the first Apple foldable device could launch in 2026 or 2027 – later than some sources have suggested – but that it’s unclear whether it will be a folding iPhone or a replacement for the iPad mini.

Making sense of the report is challenging as there are so few details, and the author admits they don’t actually know what it means …

Apple is in no hurry

We’ve noted many times before that Apple is taking its usual wait-and-see approach where foldables are concerned, letting rivals like Samsung suffer all the problems that go along with trying to be on the bleeding edge of new tech.

Samsung provided a case study of the perils of launching a new technology too early, with the launch of the first Galaxy Fold model proving to be a complete disaster. While pre-orders went well, it was just 48 hours before major problems were found as reviewers tested the device. Samsung initially said it was delaying the launch until May before it canceled pre-orders. The company then talked about a July launch, before canceling that too.

It did finally launch, but even by the fourth iteration our sister site 9to5Google found that the biggest flaw was still very much present: The screen cracked within days of arrival!

Folding iPhone or iPad?

As we’ve noted before, the big question is whether Apple would make an iPhone that folds in half to a super-pocketable size, or an iPad that folds in half to an iPhone size.

There are two different ways of designing a folding iPhone that opens up to reveal an 8-inch display. First, there is a vertical fold, like the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2. What you get there is a device slim enough to fit into a jacket pocket, which then opens up into a rather wide iPad mini-like display.

The alternative is a horizontal fold, like the 2019 Motorola Razr. What that gives you is a super-pocketable device that opens up into an even larger Pro Max – creating more vertical space rather than more horizontal room.

A long time ago, most of you agreed with me that the Razr approach makes more sense – though we’ll see below whether that’s still the case.

The latest supply chain report

The Elec‘s latest report doesn’t exactly help. It says that display suppliers Samsung and LG have for some time been sending folding screen samples to Apple for the company’s consideration – and that the latest of these are in the 7-8 inch range.

Samsung Display and LG Display are already reportedly sending samples of 6-inch late- and 7-inch late-foldable panels to Apple last year, respectively.

For the late 7-inch to early 8-inch foldable products that Apple is reviewing [this year], the industry is speculating that it will be a foldable iPhone or a foldable iPad model. The product nature and specifications have not been finalized […]

The concept of the late 7-inch to early 8-inch Apple foldable product is to replace the 8.3-inch iPad mini 

9to5Mac’s Take

One theory is that the device is a folding iPhone. Currently the largest screen iPhone Apple makes is 6.7 inches diagonal, but if we imagine a Razr-style device which folds in the middle, then an 8-inch display would still be pocketable.

Another theory is that Apple is working on a folding iPad ahead of a folding iPhone. If you imagine say an 11-inch iPad which folds down to the size of an iPad mini.

However, this report specifically suggests a display in the 7-inch to 8-inch range. Fold that in half, and you have, well, an iPhone. So does it replace the iPad mini?

You could argue that if you have a folding iPhone which opens up to an 8-inch screen, then you no longer need an iPad mini. The problem with that argument is price. Foldables are expensive, and large-screen iPhones are expensive. Put the two together and you have something likely to cost way more than an iPad mini.

Given that a significant slice of the iPad mini market is business, using it for things like warehouse inventory and order tablets for restaurant wait staff, price is key, so I can’t see Apple dropping the device even if it does make a folding iPhone with the same size screen.

The bottom line here is that the report means little. Even if the site’s sources are correct, the only hard information is that Apple’s two biggest display suppliers have been sending the company samples of folding displays in various sizes – which is hardly breaking news. Suppliers send Apple samples of all kinds of things all the time.

Still, while we’re here, let’s update that poll. Given a choice between say an 11-inch or 12-inch iPad which folds down to something iPad mini size, or something iPhone Pro sized which folds out to a 7-inch or 8-inch iPad mini, which would you prefer?

9to5Mac collage using images from Apple and Luke Chesser on Unsplash

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