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Is Apple Losing the Design Lead?

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Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) has always been a trendsetter. The first iMacs were a splash of color in a gray and beige PC world. The first iPhone raised the bar for what a smartphone could and should be. The iPad? Another market created from scratch, because Apple's tablet rewrote the rulebook for tablet computers.

But the iPad line has been around for nearly three years now. Every one of Apple's product categories has settled down in a pattern of refinement rather than revolution. Has Cupertino passed the baton to other tastemakers?

Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) would like to think that its Surface tablet sets a new standard in Apple's tablet stronghold. I'm not so sure. The Windows 8 software on it may be new, but the hardware looks rather familiar.

Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) and friends keep pushing out better and faster tablets and smartphones -- but they're all simply improved versions of existing products. Nobody seems to expect a whole lot of new thinking in the mobile computing market anymore.

But Samsung might change all of that next year.

The South Korean electronics giant is working on smartphones with flexible OLED screens. This is not totally new; Sammy and OLED expert Universal Display (Nasdaq: PANL  ) have been at this game for many years now, with some of the research funded by military grants.

One of Samsung's flexible phone ideas, courtesy of

The difference is that Samsung now hopes to commercialize flexible screens in 2013, bringing actual phones to market. Universal Display had been hoping for announcements to that effect before the end of 2012 but had to defer that dream to next year.

Can your smartphone screen do this? Source: Samsung.

Flexible screens would enable even thinner and lighter phones, and there's no limit to the new designs Samsung could dream up. Moreover, scratched and shattered screens would be a thing of the past when you're using these high-quality plastics. Handsets like these would be a breath of fresh air among the hundreds of rectangular glass slabs with rounded corners.

Even funkier solutions. Source: Samsung.

If Apple was working on something like this, you can bet that manufacturing partners and tech bloggers would be leaking rumors all over the Internet. But they're not.

It's safe to say that Samsung will blaze a new trail here. Nokia (NYSE: NOK  ) is also working up flexible-screen handsets, probably using Samsung's screen modules. Apple is watching others raise the smartphone bar right now.

Will flexible screens catch on and force Cupertino to follow suit? That's up to the early models to decide. Another novelty feature won't matter one iota, but it's a game changer if the screens change the way you'd use the phone -- in a good way.

There is absolutely no argument that Apple is near the center of technology's largest revolution ever, and that longtime shareholders have been handsomely rewarded with more than 1,000% gains. However, there is a debate raging as to whether Apple remains a buy. The Motley Fool's senior technology analyst and managing bureau chief, Eric Bleeker, is prepared to fill you in on both reasons to buy and reasons to sell Apple, and what opportunities are left for the company (and more importantly, your portfolio) going forward. To get instant access to his latest thinking on Apple, simply click here now.

Read/Post Comments (10) | Recommend This Article (5)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On November 20, 2012, at 10:42 PM, wessew wrote:

    I really do not see the reason for the debate! In every other instance in which a company has achieved market capitalization dominance, it has sold at a very large premium multiple. Apple has done it via earnings. It has never been accorded the premium multiples at the peak we saw for MSFT, WMT, CSCO, etc. So, at this point, with earnings still highly likely to grow north of 20% per year and selling at 10x it is hard not to believe there is considerable upside from here. While it is broadly owned, the story is not fully appreciated! One key is that Apple has global opportunites across several product lines to continue growth.

  • Report this Comment On November 20, 2012, at 10:52 PM, PedroHMG wrote:

    Couldn't agree more. I have been long Apple shares since $37 and Apple has NEVER looked better in terms of its over all product lineup. This quarter's earnings will be a major BLOWOUT and Apple will be at new all time highs after the January 2013 earnings report!

  • Report this Comment On November 20, 2012, at 11:09 PM, thefist wrote:

    Hmmm, did "Sammy" discover flexible silicon and solder joints too?

  • Report this Comment On November 21, 2012, at 9:33 AM, lucasmonger wrote:

    Yeah right, like I want to put one of those warped phones in my pocket. Funky researchy novelty idea, but just not practical. Jony Ive would never design a phone like those Samsung prototypes.

  • Report this Comment On November 21, 2012, at 10:03 AM, techy46 wrote:

    It's going to be interesting to see how those silicon componenst work on that rubber mother board? Who's making the flexible battery?

    Seriously, IBM, Inteland enven Microsoft do original invention and design, check out the patent standings, while Apple innovates interfaces so dogs and monkeys can ride bike and swing on vines. Meanwhile, Google steals from everybody and makes billions on ads so we can get at each other's stuff using shareware.

  • Report this Comment On November 21, 2012, at 10:05 AM, techy46 wrote:

    I guess bending's better than shattering when dropped?

  • Report this Comment On November 21, 2012, at 11:08 AM, Secs27 wrote:

    Compare the design of the iPhone 5 and the iPad 4 to anything that domes from Samsung. The apple products are gorgeous and made from high end materials. Their products are also extremely well made. Samsung, google and that really dishonest and low end company called amazon produce ugly, cheap looking and feeling plastic objects. They all stole from apple. While apple is no saint either, they make beautiful, very well made products that work flawlessly with no issues. The only tablet that comes close to the iPad with respect to power and build quality is the Microsoft Surface. The Surface Pro that will be out in January, will have the beauty and build quality of the iPad combined with the power of a full fledged computer.

  • Report this Comment On November 21, 2012, at 7:00 PM, rgardner101 wrote:

    Just what I want a phone shaped like a horseshoe or a question mark. NOT!

  • Report this Comment On November 21, 2012, at 11:39 PM, hype22 wrote:

    it is not if it will lose design dominance ,it happened a while ago,now the question is do they have it in them to catch up

  • Report this Comment On November 21, 2012, at 11:40 PM, hype22 wrote:

    the flexibility will give you the chance to have ever bigger screens and always storage at a much different level

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