UBS asserts that Apple’s new patent could boost sales
The long-awaited and highly anticipated foldable iPhone from Apple may be closer to reality than previously thought. Recently, the US Patent Office awarded Apple a patent for a display with touch sensors, specifically referring to a foldable electronic device in the patent's abstract. The approval of the patent is seen as a positive indication that Apple is actively developing a foldable iPhone and that it may be closer to release than many had predicted.
However, according to UBS analyst David Vogt, there are currently no signs that the foldable iPhone will be released this year. Nevertheless, Vogt contends that the release of such a groundbreaking product in the future could have a significant impact on iPhone sales worldwide. The release of a foldable iPhone could potentially revolutionize the smartphone market and become a highly sought-after device among consumers.
In a note to investors, Vogt wrote: ‘We believe that a foldable iPhone model could lead to an uptick in consumer purchasing and upgrade rate within the smartphone segment. If a foldable device compresses the upgrade rate for iPhones or attracts 'switchers' from the Android ecosystem, iPhone unit growth could come in above our 238 million estimate in [fiscal 2024] given an installed base of roughly 1.2 billion iPhones and roughly 1.3 billion smartphones shipped a year.’
There have been persistent rumors of a potential foldable iPhone for several years now. In April 2022, FT International analyst Ming-Chi Kuo made a prediction that the foldable smartphone would be made available in 2025, possibly as a hybrid device combining the features of an iPhone and an iPad.
‘I expected Apple to launch a foldable iPhone as soon as 2024 in my reports last year, but now it's clear this prediction needs to be revised. I predict Apple may launch its first foldable product in 2025 at the earliest, which may be a foldable iPad or a hybrid of iPad & iPhone. I think the priority order of sizes of Apple foldable product development is medium, large, & small. Apple is actively testing foldable OLED about 9" (PPI between iPhone & iPad, adoption of TDDI). The test is to verify key technologies and may not be the final product spec.’
During 2021, renowned Apple insider and Bloomberg journalist, Mark Gurman, who is highly regarded for his accurate reporting on Apple's upcoming products, stated that the company would require two to three years to launch its foldable device.
Rivals already offer foldable phones
Apple's competitor, Samsung, has already released two foldable smartphones: the Galaxy Z Fold 4, which features a vertical crease down the center of the display, allowing it to fold like a book, and the Galaxy Z Flip 4, which has a horizontal crease, enabling it to fold like a makeup compact. These devices are marketed as premium products, with the Galaxy Z Flip 4 starting at a price of $999 and the Galaxy Z Fold 4 starting at $1,799.
Introducing foldable variants could potentially boost the Apple's iPhone sales at a time when global phone sales have declined from their pandemic-induced highs. According to IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker, smartphone shipments fell by 11.2% in 2022, with Apple experiencing a decline of 14.9% in Q4 alone. By introducing a new and innovative device to its product line-up, Apple could gain a competitive edge over its rivals and potentially reinvigorate sales in the smartphone market.
During Q1, which includes the holiday season, Apple's iPhone revenue failed to meet analysts' expectations, reaching $65.7 billion instead of the anticipated $68.3 billion. However, like other tech giants, Apple frequently files for and obtains patents for technologies that may never make it to the market. Therefore, while the company has patented a foldable iPhone, it may not necessarily be a product that it intends to manufacture.
Moreover, despite the Q1 decline in iPhone sales, much of this can be attributed to production issues caused by COVID lockdowns and worker protests in China. As UBS analyst David Vogt notes, a recent survey of 7,000 smartphone users in the U.S., U.K., and China found that a foldable phone was the least important feature sought after by customers in a new handset.
Nevertheless, Apple may still release a foldable phone in the future as the technology becomes more accessible and affordable to consumers. The fact that the company is actively developing a foldable device and has been awarded a patent for its display technology suggests that it remains committed to innovation and staying ahead of the competition.
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