Smartphones have maintained a strikingly similar appearance over the past decade, but the landscape is slowly changing. Companies like Samsung, Motorola, and Google are reshaping the industry by introducing screens that can bend and fold. While most major smartphone manufacturers have embraced this trend with foldable devices or have plans to do so, Apple stands out as an exception.

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Apple, known for its distinctive approach, is taking a different path to redefine the smartphone experience. Rather than focusing on altering the physical design of the iPhone’s screen to accommodate more apps or offer a larger display, Apple is harnessing the power of software to bring new functionalities to its devices. By morphing the software, Apple aims to unlock novel ways for users to interact with their phones.

A prime example of this software-centric approach is Apple’s latest offering, the iOS 17 update. Currently in beta and scheduled for a fall release, this update introduces StandBy mode, a feature that transforms the iPhone into a miniature smart display akin to products like the Echo Show or Google Nest Hub.

Although StandBy mode and foldable phones may appear unrelated, they share a common objective of redefining how smartphones present information. This objective aligns with the increasing role that mobile devices have assumed in our lives over the past 15 years.

In StandBy mode, the iPhone displays apps such as the clock, music player, or calendar in full-screen while charging and in landscape orientation. This immersive experience allows the iPhone to function as a smart display, making it easier to view from a distance. StandBy mode grants the iPhone new roles, such as serving as a bedside clock or a compact Amazon Echo Show-like device.

To optimize StandBy mode, Siri has been fine-tuned, anticipating that voice control will play a vital role when the phone is resting on a table or stand. Furthermore, Apple’s Live Activities feature seamlessly integrates with this mode, enabling users to access information such as Uber ETAs without the need to physically interact with their phones.

Another noteworthy addition in iOS 17 is Smart Stacks. This feature dynamically rotates a collection of widgets based on factors like time and location, providing users with contextually relevant information. While Smart Stacks can be utilized beyond StandBy mode, its true potential shines in this mode. Instead of having a blank screen when idle, users can access useful details like weather updates or upcoming appointments.

Unlike Apple’s software-driven approach, companies like Samsung, Motorola, Google, Oppo, and Huawei have primarily embraced foldable designs to expand the capabilities of their smartphones. For instance, devices like the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 and Oppo Find N2 can transform into tablets when unfolded, while Motorola’s Razr Plus flip phone acts as a compact smart display with its bendable design and practical cover screen.

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While StandBy mode represents a significant shift in how Apple is reshaping smartphone usage in iOS 17, it is by no means the only change. The update introduces interactive widgets, empowering users to complete tasks like checking off reminders and controlling smart devices directly from the home screen. In contrast, previous iPhone widgets simply launched the corresponding app without offering interactive functionality.

Apple’s commitment to enhancing the smartphone experience extends beyond StandBy mode and interactive widgets. The Dynamic Island and always-on display features, introduced with the iPhone 14 Pro series, transform the way software is presented on the screen. The Dynamic Island, for instance, allows users to multitask seamlessly by displaying sports scores or currently playing music at the top of the screen, reducing the need to switch between apps. The always-on display provides users with instant access to vital information, such as the time, without requiring direct interaction.

While features like StandBy mode and the Dynamic Island may not provide the same dramatic impact as a foldable screen, they exemplify Apple’s commitment to enhancing the utility of the iPhone by innovating how apps and features behave on the screen. This becomes particularly crucial given that a foldable iPhone may not arrive until at least 2025.

Foldable phones have made remarkable progress and gained popularity over the past four years. Nevertheless, they still face challenges such as high costs and durability concerns. Apple may be addressing these issues behind the scenes before unveiling its own foldable phone. However, until an official announcement is made, one can only speculate.

In the meantime, Apple will likely continue finding fresh ways to keep the iPhone relevant and exciting through software updates like iOS 17. The company traditionally introduces new iPhone models each fall, incorporating enhancements to various aspects of the device. Nevertheless, it is the software updates that truly bring these hardware advancements to life, delivering a user experience that is both practical and innovative.

Makers of foldable phones can potentially draw inspiration from Apple’s approach. While having a large foldable screen that can transform into a phone is undoubtedly beneficial, companies like Samsung and Google should explore captivating software implementations to fully capitalize on the potential of flexible screens.

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I have accumulated a decade of experience in the merchant navy, where I held various ranks and contributed my skills to the maritime industry. In 2019, I transitioned from my seafaring career and embarked on a new path, delving into the realm of social media platforms. This change allowed me to channel my expertise and dedication into creating a meaningful presence across different social media channels. As I navigated away from the open seas, I found myself navigating through the dynamic and interconnected world of digital media, utilizing my experiences to engage, connect, and communicate effectively with audiences in this digital age.