In recent years, phone manufacturers have been experimenting with new designs and features to make phones more compact and convenient to carry. One of the most intriguing innovations is the foldable phone. A foldable phone is precisely what it sounds like: a phone that can fold in half like a wallet. This feature makes the phone much more compact when not in use, making it easy to slip into a pocket or purse.
Foldable phones are still relatively new to the market, so a few kinks need to be ironed out. For one, the folding mechanism is not always as smooth as it could be. Additionally, foldable phones tend to be more expensive than traditional phones, so they may not be the best option for everyone. However, despite these drawbacks, foldable phones offer a unique and convenient way to stay connected on the go.
When I saw the first foldable screens at the Display Conference in 2017, I was very excited about this technological breakthrough. Although the ones I saw from BOE and Samsung that year were prototypes, it was easy to see their potential for smartphone use.
When I pushed BOE and Samsung at that Display Conference to tell me when they could deliver market-ready foldable screens, they would only say they hoped to have them commercially available sometime in 2019. Indeed, 2019 is when Samsung introduced its first folding phone, and they have been the most aggressive company pushing smartphones with foldable screens.
Recently, TM Roh, the president of Samsung Mobile wrote a piece about Samsung’s role in folding phones-
He noted that-
“We saw an opportunity not only to design a new shape but also to create new experiences that had never been possible with a smartphone before. Overcoming many technological hurdles, we successfully introduced the first-ever Galaxy foldable smartphone in 2019 and have changed the future of our industry ever since.
Last year, we saw almost 10 million foldable smartphones shipped worldwide. That’s an industry increase of more than 300% from 2020, and I predict this fast-paced growth will continue. We are reaching the moment where these foldable devices are becoming widespread and staking a bigger claim in the overall smartphone market.”
Mr. Roh added that-
“Three years ago, Galaxy foldables could be summed up in a single word: radical. Very quickly, however, it became clear that this groundbreaking, flexible design fit perfectly into modern lifestyles. As a result, what was once a novelty three years ago, is now the preferred choice for millions.”
Mr. Roh pointed out that the Galaxy Flip represented 70% of their folding phones sold in 2021.
While this is good news for Samsung and the nascent foldable smartphone market, in the grand scheme of smartphones sold annually, it is a drop in the bucket. According to IDC, 1.38 billion smartphones were shipped worldwide in 2021. Now, 10 million foldable phones are a good start. However, I am not yet ready to go beyond seeing foldable phones as a novelty nor prepared to call them a mainstream smartphone.
While Samsung, Motorola, LG, and others are set to push folding phones aggressively, the one company that could drive the demand for folding phones in a more significant way would be Apple.
In 2018, after spending time with some of the flexible display companies, I foolishly predicted that Apple might bring a folding phone to market in 2019. I knew they had a relationship with BOE, and BOE was aggressively pushing all of their customers to use their new folding displays.
Of course, Apple did not introduce a folding phone in 2019, and as far as I can tell, they have shown very little interest in making a foldable iPhone. This is not to say they have not researched foldable smartphones at the design level. Still, they have not indicated that any folding iPhone is on the proverbial drawing board.
I have personally tested Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold2 and liked how it worked and what it offered. But it is still too pricey for the mainstream market. Although the Galaxy Z Flip has a lower price, it too is priced in the more premium category of smartphones. While it has sold exceptionally well, especially in South Korea, it is far from a real hit in the larger smartphone market.
On August 10, 2022, Samsung will hold its next “Unpacked Event-Unfold your World“, clearly suggesting they will introduce new folding phones.
This event will give us a peek at Samsung’s updated thinking and designs in foldable smartphones and should provide us with a better sense of how much more interest they will get from mainstream users.
However, given Apple’s history of pushing a new design or form factor forward, I suspect that if folding smartphones gain ground, it won’t come until Apple enters this market. If not, folding smartphones growth will most likely be more gradual, and it may take significantly lower prices to move the needle forward.