Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) has long been known for its product innovation and ability to create new market segments, but over the past few years the company's ingenuity has been questioned. Now it seems Apple may be taking some cues from rival Samsung (NASDAQOTH:SSNLF), which isn't necessarily a good thing.
Anything you can do I can do bigger
While Apple likely does have more ideas up its sleeve, investors have come to expect revolutionary products from Cupertino every few years and have been left largely disappointed recently. Some of the latest news surrounding new iPhone innovations involve ideas that are already in the smartphone market, leaving investors wondering if Apple knows which way to go with its flagship device.
Take a Bloomberg article published over the weekend, which claimed Apple is working on two new large-screen iPhones with curved glass, set for release in the second half of 2014. Sources told Bloomberg that Apple is working on 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch iPhones that have glass that "curves downward at the edges."
Though smartphones seem to be getting bigger, data from mobile advertising platform Flurry earlier this year showed that screen sizes between 3.5 inches and 4.9 inches still dominate the mobile market. That puts Apple's iPhones well within the most popular range of screen sizes, and leaves the question open as to why the company might follow Samsung into the larger display arena.
A curve ball for consumers
Samsung recently launched the Galaxy Round, which has a concave display. The phone isn't a mass-market device, but rather shows Samsung can create rounded screens that could lead to other innovations like foldable smartphone screens in the next few years.
Samsung has said it will have a bendable display by next year and a foldable screen by 2015. Research firm IHS expects sales for flexible organic light-emitting diode, or OLED, displays to hit $100 million next year, and anticipates that foldable OLEDs will hit the market after 2016.
While a bendable or foldable display trend may be on the horizon, Apple and other tech companies certainly don't need to bring curved devices to market in order to make that happen. Samsung tends to make a vast amount of mobile products that hit lots of niches, but they don't all pay off. Curved displays don't add much, if any, function to smartphones and investors should hope Apple comes to the same conclusion.
Investors should focus on two main ideas concerning the recent Bloomberg news. The first is that the super-isized smartphone displays aren't the norm and Apple still falls well within the most popular range of device display sizes. Also, Apple does extensive testing of different devices and models and only brings a fraction to market, so any news should be taken with a bit of skepticism.
Second, although foldable and bendable displays may be future smartphone trends, there's nothing to prove that the consumer masses will stand in line for curved iPhones anytime soon. A larger-screen device has obvious upsides for entertainment and app functionality, but a curved device is largely a marketing gimmick. While some investors may be unhappy with Apple's lack of recent innovations, following Samsung down the curved smartphone path certainly isn't the answer.