Lately, the main hype in tech has been on the foldable smartphone. The trend started with a somewhat unknown company, but was truly ignited when Samsung and Huawei set the bandwagon on course!
Basically, tech companies are starting to launch smartphone-tablet hybrids with foldable screens. At first sight, the product is a phone. Then, with a “magical” move, it turns into a tablet! Why have a smartphone and a tablet when you could have both in one?!
So, is the hype worth it?
Is this what we’ve all been waiting for?
Is it going to save the smartphone industry?
# What is it?
* Main leading products
The main products on this trend come from Samsung and Huawei.
On the one hand, we have the Samsung Galaxy Fold, which Samsung declares (and hopes!) will change the face of tomorrow! The phone-side screen size is 4.6″, while the tablet-side screen is 7.3″. The device has multiple cameras, a large battery, large RAM and internal storage, and runs on Android 9.0 Pie (at launch). The device costs $2,000!
It is safe to say that this device got the most attention. It definitely feels cool, well engineered, and full of tech. However, it seems to be far from ready as no journalists were allowed to handle it at the launch event, while the official website indicates that the advertised features could be changed at any time without notice.
On the other hand, Huawei introduced “the unprecedented” Mate X. Whereas Samsung’s offering has a separate tablet screen unfolding from the inside, Huawei went with the approach of having one screen covering both sides of the smartphone mode and unfolding from the outside for the tablet mode. It has larger screens configurations; 6.6″ smartphone and 8″ tablet. It has less RAM than the Samsung, but a larger battery, and it also runs Android 9.0 Pie. This is an even more expensive device, at $2,600!
* Is it well received?
What do some tech experts say about the the new movement?
The Samsung Galaxy Fold was perceived to be exciting, with advanced tech features, and expected to work seamlessly in terms of software and hardware. While the device seems to be durable, it is expensive and not for everyone.
The Huawei Mate X boasts an interesting and novel design, perhaps the best implementation of foldables for now; it is slimmer, has better camera implementation, and a better folding/unfolding mechanism. The feeling of carrying the device, though, is more tablet than phone. Again, it is notably expensive.
Basically, there seem to be a consensus among the tech world; They like the concept of a foldable smartphone! It is no secret that the overall smartphone market has been stagnating lately and this new movement is bringing back that missing WOW effect. Foldables are certainly cool, geeky, and futuristic. Tech writers seem to agree that foldables are the future of the stagnating smartphone market.
# MCB analysis
* What sparked it?
In my opinion, the main drive for this new direction first came from the supply side. Engineers and R&D departments in tech companies – along with enthusiastic geeks – are probably the main players leading to the movement.
Smartphone screen sizes have been increasing for years, but it seems that they have hit a wall. They are getting too large to be truly portable or pocketable. Hence, in an attempt to resolve the issue, tech companies are now saying, “Hey, why not have both?! Pocketable AND a larger screen!”
In addition, some market segments might have also been pushing into this direction. I would argue that wanting an ever larger screen is an indication of market “wants” as opposed to deep and real “needs.” Larger is cooler (never mind one-hand usability!).
* What is it for?
The foldable device is meant to be a smartphone-tablet hybrid. There is a feeling that the smartphone side would be the primary one, with the tablet folded out as needed. The smartphone is for portable and easy communication and media consumption, while the tablet is for entertainment; Gaming, watching videos (YouTube, Netflix, etc), enjoying photos, and engaging in social media networks.
* Who is it for?
At the launch period and with such a price tag ($2,000 – $ 2,600), those who would be most interested in the device probably belong to one (or more) of the below segments:
1. Status-conscious. They enjoy the attention a foldable device would attract when they are with their social circles. They have the wow car, the wow watch, the wow clothing/perfume/etc, and – of course – the wow smartphone.
2. Early adopters and opinion leaders. They are the ones who always have the latest gadgets and the ones people go to for tech-related advice. They just cannot afford not to be at the cutting edge!
3. Pure geeks. They are already saving money to get on board of the foldable device wagon! They’re in it for the technological innovation, to be able to experience “the future!” They will be exploring the devices’ technical abilities and testing their limits.
* Who is it not for?
I expect that the foldable smartphone (in the currently available iterations) would probably not be immediately attractive to people who are productivity-focused with their use of mobile devices. This is because the screen size of the tablet-side is relatively small (about 7-8″) and the (current) lack of a pencil/stylus and keyboard integration. In addition, getting such a device instead of a full tablet takes away some other advantages, like having double batteries and storage (smartphone + tablet), and the ability to separate task-specific apps between the two devices.
Of course, productivity-conscious people who also fall under the three probable target categories are more likely to be interested in a foldable device.
Another group who would not be interested are mobile-focused people. A foldable smartphone is bulky, less-easy to handle, and probably less reliable (folding mechanism wouldn’t be to sturdy at launch).
And lastly, for now, people who are Apple/iOS-centric (within Apple’s walled garden!). They are so engrained in the Apple ecosystem that spending $2,000 on a device not having their full suit of apps and services would not be a wise decision.
# Future outlook
* Will it succeed?
Well, it seems that – at least initially – the market is probably coming. People are getting bored of the conventional smartphone and the conventional tablet. In addition, the probable target markets (status-conscious, early adopters, and geeks) are likely willing to spend the cash on a first generation foldable device. This would encourage companies like Samsung and Huawei to develop a second generation of the devices.
The question is whether foldable devices are more of a fad or a trend. If they live up through the launching/introduction phase, they could have a chance of some longevity. On the other hand, the risk of buying a device coupled with the high price tag could be too high for a sufficient number of people to buy in, which would ultimately result in declining sales and failure.
On a more general scope, nevertheless, the future seems to be populated with advanced screen configurations that are not limited to the static slate designs of today.
* Should Apple respond?
Back in the days, Steve Jobs famously made fun of small tablets. However, with competitive pressure, Apple introduced the iPad Mini years after.
If the foldable devices from Samsung, Huawei, and others prove profitable, then we could see something coming from Apple as a response to the changing market. There would be a good chance that Apple is already experimenting with prototypes as we speak.
For the more casual/entertainment/media-consumption market (which is probably the majority!), we could see an iPhone foldable to an iPad Mini size. For the Pro market, though, the current configurations are probably not ideal as the tablet screen size is relatively small.
So, foldable devices are here! And it seems that they, in the current form or (probably) other upcoming forms, are here to stay or a while at least!
As explained above, I believe that the spark for this form comes largely from engineers and tech enthusiasts, and not from deep and important market needs. Ironically, this could still gain some ground in terms of larger scale enthusiasm and adoption, especially if prices go down.
* Is it for me?
At this point in time (with current forms), probably not! A tablet for me is a laptop replacement. It is a productivity tool for work creation and not media consumption. From this perspective, foldables are not for me since the tablet part of them aren’t as well equipped for productivity on the go as, say, an iPad Pro 11″.
Will I change my mind in the future?
If Apple steps in with – hopefully – a better implementation, I would at least give it as a second thought. For the time being, however, my favorite mobile productivity device is the iPad Pro, with the iMac, iPhone, and Apple Watch forming a good supporting cast!