Apple's Folding Future

Ever wonder what's going to happen next in smartphones? After the conservative iPhone 5 and the relentless and surprising onslaught of Samsung, it's clear that Apple's next move in the space will have to be revolutionary. Ennui has seeped into the minds of some Apple faithful as they have become bored with their phones, and envious with what's happening over the fence in Android's backyard. The iPhone 6 (not due for another 15 months) will be a signal moment for Tim Cook and team -- it must astound and amaze, all without you-know-who leading the charge. This will either be a first step toward Sonyland or a breathtaking victory for the new regime. There will be no room for the careful incrementalism of the 5.

Without any inside knowledge of Apple or other makers' plans, I believe that the coolest future smartphones will fold. To demonstrate, take the current iPhone 5, lengthen it by 1.5 inches, widen it by an inch, make it 30% thinner, then fold the whole thing in half. In your hand (as per my mock-up above) you would be holding a square device with a full screen of icons, video, pictures -- ready to make a call or open an app. This form factor would fit easily into a shirt breast pocket or the front pocket of a pair of jeans. But when you open the phone, you would have a massive screen (there's display glass on both sides of the device) with a diagonal of nearly seven inches. That's bigger than the non-folding Galaxy Note 2 which is often called a "phablet" in polite circles and "the sandal" in rougher company. The jump in screen size would enable applications that don't work on smaller smartphones -- especially reading-intensive, typing-intensive, or detail-intensive uses like maps. And the large screen would comfortably carry advertising, enhancing the value of the iOS ecosystem for third parties and tipping the Mobile War in Apple's favor.

Now this won't be easy. The hinge technology will have to be an engineering marvel, and making the folding crease of the screen invisible will pose problems in materials, optics, and touch technologies. But the payoff is enormous: 1) it puts competition on the defensive; 2) it gives customers incentive to upgrade out of the non-folding iPhone generations; and 3) it positions Apple to dominate the emerging mobile engagement market -- a world in which the mobile device continually interacts with people as they move through time and space. An iWatch would be cool -- but a small smartphone that could transform into a large phone would re-spark consumers' love affair with Apple and enable the company to re-take the innovation high ground.

Comments

A better Apple Smartphone

George, that folding-future is an innovative vision, but for me, it does not pass the test to, as you said, astound and amaze.

Here is my problem with all of the current so-called smartphones: they use up one of my precious 2 hands. My hands are the tools I use all the time. If I were talking to you I would be gesturing. When I am driving one hand is on the steering wheel and the other is on the gearshift. When I am scrambling in the backcountry my hands are grasping rock or vegetable belays. In order to use the smart-phone to access information (the phone-function can be done hands-free, but it is an almost trivial feature of these machines) I need to use a hand, and worse, I need to look at it. So, it is taking my eyes away from you, my driving, or my course through the wilderness.

When cell phones were mainly phones, I wanted one with no screen. Just an earphone and voice commands. Instead we have these marvelous little computers that are all about the same size as my hp 11c calculator (circa 1981 – I still use it every day), with a high-quality miniature screen. It was a great idea when the iPhone first appeared. But, 15 months from now will be the summer of 2014, and I will be ready for something that frees me so that I can access the information without causing me to have to hunch over a handheld calculator (I really don’t want to do that regardless of the size of the screen).

It occurred to me some years ago, as I was struggling up a gnarly mountain using GPS to keep me out of some ugly gullies, that the business of stopping to haul out the GPS receiver to check my position was really slowing us down. The weather was poor and visibility was limited. Navigation by GPS (or compass if that failed) was necessary. I grumbled that I needed a heads-up display. So, I cheered when I read about Google’s Project Glass. As of early 2013, the Glass headset is still awkward and geeky. But 15 months from now, I think that Apple could come up with version 1.0 of a device that accesses the cell network, frees my hands, and shows me everything I want to see. That would astound and amaze.

Google Glass

Would you wear it climbing? Would you wear it on the streets of a city? Would you wear it at work? Where would you not wear it?

George

As someone who has worn

As someone who has worn glasses all my life, the obvious answer to most of your questions is 'yes.' There are, of course, places I would not wear it — such as sleeping. BTW, since I've have known some great climbers, I don't use that word to describe me. When hiking I am willing to do some scrambling. My favourite form of backcountry travel is skiing. In the high country (above 4000 feet) on sunny days, most people don eyewear.

Even if I didn't wear glasses, some light and fashonable headgear (probably like glasses) would be easier for me to use than the calculator-size little hand-held computer. At this point, I'd like to see what Jony Ive and his team, can visualize that would satisfy me.

In the 70s (when I was running a planetarium) we had a fanciful forecast that someday we would have communication devices embedded in our bodies. We imagined being able to access people and information by an extension of thought processes. So, it is going to take some real innovation to astound and amaze us. I've been using Apple computers since 1982. I guess this blog is about waiting and watching to see how they are going to, again, raise the bar.

George: I concur with

George: I concur with Robert's comments. The reason why the iPhone amazed and astound is because it was incredibly intuitive and offered interaction and usability never seen before. A flip version of the iPhone is almost backwards - it doesn't add anything other than portability and a wow factor for engineers...

For the next device to be truly amazing it would need to take the usability to next level - further integration with the human senses and user interaction that is even more 'natural' and handsfree. Google glass is a great example, but I believe there are more options possible where multiple senses and bodily functions collaborate to engage with technology in a way never seen before. The guys from Myo for instance give an idea of what that could look like.

Perhaps a retina contact lens with an invisible earpiece that is also your mic and a small bracelet that allows you to control it all (in addition to your voice of course)...???

Only time will tell I guess

Only half jokingly, what

Only half jokingly, what about a nice slim version that wraps around your wrist -- kind of like those mini playbooks quarterbacks wear on their wrists. With all the diagnostic apps coming out, you could consistently send health stats to your physician. Of course, you'd have to make sure it doesn't get too hot and that it was, of course, stylish . . .

"The Quarterback iPhone"

This is a cool idea -- not Google Glass, but always with you, always on, always accessible, and not on your face -- begging for ridicule. But what happens when you don't wear a short sleeve shirt...

Fashion vs Function

Merlina raises a key question. With technology where it is today, this next generation of flexible, wearable devices that will inevitably come, have to be fashion first. Our company, Canatu, hears this all the time talking to prospective smart watch makers, we facilitate the fully flexible form-able touch element.

Projection

In my opinion, the future is projections. In the form of a ring (or some other device) that you would wear, and project an image onto your palm or elsewhere. The technology is already out there for projected keyboards - I can imagine people browsing the internet by swiping and clicking a projected image of their browser in the palm of their hand.

Have a look at this

Dear All,

Interesting concept and comments.

It is difficult for a single smartphone to cater everybody's wish list, however a smartphone can reach closer to this.

I have known a concept phone for as many as 7-8 years and here is the link http://www.nokia888.net/ (as far as i know this is not a nokia website). This concept phone is somewhere closer to what all of us are expecting in next revolutionary smartphone.

“If I had asked people what

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” ~ Henry Ford

I hope that we can not presume what Apple's R&D are thinking of or building as the next big thing. We clearly do not really know what we want and I really do not see Apple trying to copy Google's Glass project, unless they intend to buy Google.

Apple’s strategy of innovation is customer centric. They aim to provide for all basic human needs and create a desire for its customers to interact with their computer or mobile device. The goal is for the customer to love their machines – focusing on every little detail right down to packaging. Key to this strategy is the relentless pursuit of product improvement. In this pursuit, Apple maps out their product’s innovation cycle 5 to 10 years into the future. Thus you can see that if they release something next year then it probably started its innovation cycle somewhere between 2004 and 2009.

Personally I would love a 13" Macbook Air that swivelled the screen to become a 13" iPad, but if that was all Tim Cook delivered at a MacWorld expo then I would be disappointed.

Folding Screen or Dual Screen?

Folding screens may some value, but what is more important to me is seeing two apps, two browsing pages, or a video and email viewer open at the same time.
Just like my Laptop screen is connected to a second monitor.
What manufacturer is going to figure that trick out first?

There is a interesting

There is a interesting discussion going on...........where everyone is stating their wish list and they are somewhat similar all are wishing to have less to handle.Aligning with your thoughts I guess a smart phone watch would be a really cool idea.Glasses and some weird headset would be too much to handle..........