Samsung is on its second generation of foldable phones. Motorola and Huawei are a step behind, but remain in the game. Will your next phone be one you can fold?
The technology is impressive. All the foldable phones I’ve seen to date look great. They are also useful.
Folding means a handheld phone can morph into a small iPad Mini sized tablet. They make reading and simple online tasks easier than on everyday phones.
From a phone maker perspective they do three important things.
First, they give phone buyers a reason to upgrade. People have been hanging on to phones for longer because there is less pressing reason to upgrade. Adding a new functionality breaks that cycle.
Out of the cul-de-sac
Second, they give phone makers a route of the design cul-de-sac.
Phone formats have stabilised as slabs of glass and metal. They would be almost featureless if it were not for the ever swelling camera bumps. Makers add more lenses and more receptor pixels in a bid to competitive1.
Folding phones open up new ways to differentiate and compete.
The third benefit of folding phones for phone makers is they sell for premium prices. Phone makers can increase the average unit price at a time of intense competition downward pressure on prices.
Phone makers announced two more foldable models in the last week or so. Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip and Lenovo’s $1,500 Motorola Razr are both flip phones with folding screens.
Foldables have not got off to a good start. Samsung’s Galaxy Fold was a botched launch. A second wave of models was better, but they are still fragile and expensive at NZ $3400.
The Motorola Razr is as fragile and has poor battery life.
In other words, the models we’ve seen so far are undercooked. They will sell to well-heeled early adopters. These people will pay a king’s ransom to act as guinea pigs. Meanwhile the phone makers can go back to the drawing board and perfect their designs.
They will make it into the mainstream in one of two ways. Either Apple will create a folding iPhone that gets the technology right and resets the market or Samsung will brute force its way to success. The other possibility is that folding phones go the way of 3D television sets.
There’s no doubt this is a development worth watching. My advice is to hang on to your money for now, maybe squeeze another year from your existing phone. The benefits of having a bigger screen are not enough to outweigh the risk of spending a lot of money on something that’s easy to break.
- It’s questionable this is what most buyers want. ↩︎