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Rumours of a foldable iPhone have been heating up in recent months, spurred on by reports that Apple has been actively testing folding display technology since late last year, followed by reliable supply chain analyst reports that suggest Apple is readying all the pieces to produce its first model of the new design.
While there have been some extremely optimistic reports that Apple could produce one this year, more pragmatic analysts, including the highly reputable Ming-Chi Kuo, have suggested the first foldable iPhone is still a couple of years away.
Now, it appears that Kuo is doubling down on the earlier prediction he shared in March, with an actual estimate of how many foldable iPhones that Apple expects to sell.
A Slower Start?
In a new note to investors published today, Kuo is forecasting that in 2023, which is expected to be the first year of the foldable iPhone, shipments could reach up to 20 million units.
Kuo bases this estimate on the belief that Apple plans to use an 8-inch QHD+ flexible OLED display supplied exclusively by Samsung, not only for the actual physical display, but also for other components like display driver chips, which are expected to be produced by Samsung’s Foundry division. The 15–20 million number is based on Apple’s “requested capacity plan” with Samsung to produce these components.
If Kuo’s numbers are accurate, however, this suggests that the first foldable iPhone will not be a mainstream model. In other words, it seems unlikely that the “iPhone 15” would see a transition to a foldable iPhone design. Instead, Apple will likely keep the same traditional lineup while adding the foldable version as a new option.
That said, Kuo predicts that the new technology will ultimately take off, eventually replacing the original design. He expects it will trigger the next “super replacement cycle” for higher-end iPhone models, in much the same way that last year’s introduction of 5G for the iPhone 12.
The ‘Biggest Winner’
Kuo is also predicting that Apple is going to take the world by storm when it releases its first foldable iPhone, as it’s already positioned to “be the biggest winner in the new foldable device trend.”
This isn’t all that surprising, however, as it’s fairly typical for how Apple rolls. Rather than being the first company to introduce new technology, it quietly builds and tests, and iterates, and perfects behind the scenes, so that when it does finally unveil what it’s been working on, it’s a spectacular new industry-leading development.
In the case of the foldable iPhone, Kuo predicts that Apple will be adopting a “silver nanowire touch” solution right out of the gate that will give it a “long-term competitive advantage,” since it will be ready to support devices that require multiple folds, and even rollable displays for larger devices.
The silver nanowire touch technology also isn’t new for Apple, as Kuo explains that it’s already used on the touch interface for the HomePod, which has allowed Apple to “master the technology” at a lower cost and smaller volumes.
We predict that foldable devices will blur the product segmentations between smartphones, tablets, and laptops in the future. With its cross-product ecosystems and hardware design advantages, Apple will be the biggest winner in the new foldable device trend.Ming-Chi Kuo
Most importantly, however, going straight to this higher-end technology for its foldable displays will pave the way for Apple to bring the technology to everything from iPhones to iPads and MacBooks.
Kuo predicts that this is the longer game that Apple is playing, which is why it’s doing everything to make sure it gets the technology right from the very beginning.
This latest investor note from Kuo builds on the information he shared back in March, when he first predicted a 7.5–8-inch display for the foldable iPhone.
This would make for a pretty massive device, but also suggests that Apple may be planning to blur the line between the iPhone and the iPad, which also seems to be bolstered by these latest sales numbers — the idea that the foldable iPhone might be an entirely new class of device within Apple’s product lineup.
Back in March, however, Kuo was careful to say that Apple still had some “key technology and mass production issues” to solve before it would be ready to release a foldable iPhone, and that formal development had not yet begun. It doesn’t appear that much has changed on that front, although it does sound like Apple has at least decided on the display technology that it plans to use, which backs up another report from earlier this year about the results of its extensive testing of foldable screens and hinges.