Foldable future: smartphones are returning to design classics

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The “Snap!” of a phone shutting down is the nostalgic sound emanating from the giant booths of Samsung, Oppo and Huawei at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week.

The star of the early 2000s, the flip phone, is making a comeback, and the industry’s big names are hoping that the new high-tech version – the foldable smartphone – is on the verge of becoming mainstream.

As production costs begin to fall, analysts expect sales to increase tenfold by 2026.

Samsung was a pioneer in the industry and presented the first foldable smartphone three years ago at the conference in Barcelona.

The South Korean company accounted for 87 percent of foldable phone sales last year, according to analysts at DSCC.

It promises that its latest models – the Galaxy Fold and Galaxy Z Flip – will offer users the kind of experience usually reserved for tablets and laptops.

The Samsung Galaxy Fold was Samsung’s first foldable smartphone

“We are working with providers such as Disney+ and YouTube to optimally integrate their applications into this screen size and to maximize all the possibilities of the product,” said Francois Hernandez of Samsung France.

But competition is increasing, and companies like China’s Oppo are getting involved.

Its Find N, which is currently only available in Asia, has seen “really hot” sales in China, according to Arne Herkelmann, the company’s head of product.

The foldable phone “is ready for the mass market,” she told AFP news agency.

“We’re seeing it continue to mature as a technology and also reach more affordable prices, so you’re definitely going to see more foldable devices in the future.”

samsung galaxy z flip folded compare samsung_galaxy_z_flip_folded_compare

The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip is smaller than most smartphones when folded


It wasn’t just the technical challenge of creating a bendable screen that held the market back.

It was also difficult to disrupt the basic image – seemingly set in stone with the first iPhone in 2007 – of a smartphone as a large black rectangle with a single touchscreen.

They remain a niche segment, with a market share of just 0.62 percent in 2021, according to Ritesh Bendre, an analyst at Counterpoint Research.

But with Huawei (and its P50 Pocket), Xiaomi, Motorola and even Google working on their own models, that share is expected to reach 3.5 percent by 2025, he said.

huawei p50 pocket launch huawei_p50_pocket_launch

The Huawei P50 Pocket uses a circular secondary display
Photo credit: Huawei

A key turning point is expected when Apple joins the fray, which analysts expect will occur around 2025.

“Apple is a hugely influential company,” Bendre said, estimating that foldables sales would top 60 million if it got involved.

“This will further increase credibility and help open up the foldable market to iPhone customers. Volumes will depend on whether Apple is targeting a more expensive or cheaper type of foldable device,” added DSCC’s Ross Young.

But in the upcoming battle for the foldable, Samsung already has an edge over its rivals, particularly in the technologies required for its production.

“Samsung is taking advantage of Apple’s lack of involvement and Huawei’s difficulties” linked to US sanctions, Young said.

“It sees foldable screens as a way to improve its flagship position over Apple and other brands.”

For details on the latest Nokia, Samsung, Lenovo and other product launches from Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, ​​visit our MWC 2022 hub.

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