The idea of an iPhone with a folding screen is appealing, and has caught the imagination of the company's legions of fans. But it looks like those fans will have to wait a bit longer.

Writing for Bloomberg, Mark Gurman claims Apple is working on a foldable iPhone but is unlikely to launch one this year, given that it plans "only minor changes" for the iPhone 13 update in late 2021.

The firm is at the prototype stage, he writes - citing "a person familiar with the work" - but a very early one; development hasn't got beyond the display itself, and Apple does not yet have "full handset prototypes". In other words, Apple is testing folding screens in isolation rather than implanting the screens into working phones, even at the prototype level.

All of this points to Apple being a long way behind its rivals in this area. Samsung's Galaxy Fold went on sale in September 2019 and the Huawei Mate X in November 2019. Motorola launched its foldable RAZR in February 2020. And foldable smartphone concepts have been doing the rounds for more than a decade.

Of course, nobody expected Apple to be at the vanguard of foldable development, since throughout the 21st century it has consistently followed a pattern of waiting until the second wave with any and all new product categories. Pioneers launch to early adopters, then Apple swoops in a year or two later with a polished product that solves the initial teething problems or makes a complex object easier to understand and use. It's a model that's worked more often than not, most famously with the original iPhone.

But it doesn't sound like we're talking about a year or two after the first wave. Foldable smartphones have been around for a while, and by waiting this long Apple runs the risk of arriving at a mature market that already has high-quality options in abundance. And in that respect this could be more like video streaming, where Apple TV+ faced established competition that included exceptionally polished offerings like Netflix and other large players like Amazon and Disney.

And TV+ hasn't done enormously well.

Still, one obvious advantage that a foldable iPhone will have over TV+ is that it's still an iPhone, and it's hard to see such a device selling poorly. Nor does it seem like the current iPhone range is suffering overmuch from its lack of folding-screen options.

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