Apple has been toying with the concept of a foldable iPhone for years, with its early patents as old as a decade. As Apple begins to discuss a release date, we now know that the company wasn't just playing around with, dare I say, the concept of a flip phone. But you'll likely have to wait until 2023--if not 2024--before the foldable iPhone will be available--despite that it may already be sitting in boxes ready to go, as we've learned following the release of the AirTag.  

That's right. Since Apple AirTags hit the shelves, people have noticed something peculiar about Apple's recent release--that product packaging is dated from 2020 and even 2019. Everyone knew Apple had acquired the AirTag brand back in 2019, but it's raising the question of why Apple sat on it for so long, and whether it's doing the same with the foldable iPhone.  

Tech companies are typically in a race to release the latest innovation, and yet Apple has a history of taking its sweet time. So much so, it's becoming evident that while we all knew Apple was in a league of its own, it also appears to be in a race on its own. And this may be part of its genius strategy that helps it to continuously release winning products. 

So how does Apple benefit from taking so long and how does this actually serve as a strategy? 

Lead From Behind 

As the industry leader, Apple remains under the watchful eye of hundreds of other companies looking to gain first-mover advantage and beat it to the finish line. But, as others try to keep their ideas a secret, Apple doesn't entirely hide what it's up to. Rather, it's actually quite transparent--to the extent that it appears as though Apple is asking to be copied. And as backward as that sounds, in doing so, it's leading from the back of the pack. 

In other words, it puts a concept out there and lets other companies race to build and test it. As each one vies for first-mover advantage with the first product to market, Apple sits back, accumulates market research, and takes its time to build a better product. It leads from behind by planting seeds, letting others sow the crops, and reaping the benefits upon harvest. It was always going to have copycats, so rather than shying away, it leverages them to its benefit. 

Take Time to Fine-Tune 

While competitors in the space focus on speed to gain first-mover advantage, Apple focuses on developing its hardware and software to create superior quality. But its development is not isolated to within the walls of Apple. Rather, its high-quality, long-cycle product development involves acquiring market research from outside of the company. This way, Apple builds what consumers want, not just what it thinks consumers want. 

The problem with market research is that people tend to struggle to conceptualize a concept, and so many of the insights and feedback generated in early development is at best a guidepost. But when others release a similar product into the market, Apple can get its hands--quite literally--on foldable smartphones and the opinions of its users, as well as data on product sales figures. It can use this to develop a finely tuned product that will crumble the competition upon its release. 

Find the Perfect Timing 

With the launch of every new competing product, Apple is able to get a temperature on product-market fit, features, and general product adoption. Even months after it's perfected its own product, Apple wisely waits for the right time to launch. Meanwhile, there's a tendency in tech to think that once a product is fully baked, the time to serve it is immediately after it comes out of the oven. But Apple doesn't approach product releases like a casual baker.  

Apple is more like an old-world winemaker who takes the time to find just the right moment the product to be ready. It considers a range of factors outside of its development to determine the perfect timing after creating the perfect product. In doing so, it may prove that being last to market has its advantages--ones that can far outweigh first-mover advantages. 

It's Apple's ability to look at the market with foresight that enables it to see that it's not in a sprint to the next 100 meters but in a marathon. It's in it for the long haul, and in adopting this approach to technological innovation, it's become the strongest in the market. 

The most strategic--and successful companies--are often those that manage to leverage industry challenges to their advantage. In the case of Apple's long-range development strategy, it goes to show that the best way to overcome a potential weakness or threat is to turn it into a strength. After all, there's no such thing as a problem without a solution, and tech--just like any great business--is designed to provide solutions to problems.