Smartphone manufacturers still want to make foldables a thing

Huawei MateX 5
Enlarge / A Huawei Technologies Co. Mate X5 smartphone arranged in Hong Kong, China, on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023.

Every large smartphone maker except Apple is betting that “foldable” phones will help revive a lackluster mobile market, despite the devices still largely failing to attract mainstream consumers.

Foldables, which have a screen that opens like a book or compact mirror, barely exceed a 1 per cent market share of all smartphones sold globally almost five years after they were first introduced.

But Samsung has doubled down on the product, investing heavily in marketing this year. In July, the Korean group released its 5G Galaxy Z series.

The world’s largest smartphone manufacturer points to estimates from Counterpoint Research that foldable devices may surpass a third of all smartphones costing more than $600 by 2027.

“We will continue to position our foldables as a key engine for our flagship growth with the clear differentiation, experience and flexibility these devices have to offer,” said Samsung.

Other handset makers such as Motorola, China’s Huawei and its spin-off Honor are also pinning their hopes on the product helping to revive a market that suffered its worst year for more than a decade.

“This is the year people [in the industry] really dived in,” said Ben Wood, an analyst at CCS Insight. “Everybody now is betting on this, except Apple.”

The iPhone-maker has yet to show any interest in the category, though patent filings suggest it may one day introduce an iPad that folds in half. Every other big smartphone maker has followed Samsung into the market, including Google’s Pixel Fold and Chinese alternatives from Huawei, Oppo and Xiaomi.

“We believe foldables are the future of smartphone devices, just like electric cars were to the auto industry,” said Bond Zhang, UK chief executive of Honor. “We’re approaching a crucial tipping point where foldables may soon become mainstream.”

But market data shows foldables are still far from mainstream. Counterpoint Research estimates about 16 million foldable phones will be sold this year, just 1.3 per cent of the 1.2 billion smartphone market total. Analysts say consumers are deterred by concerns about price, reliability and utility.

“I do wonder if there are too many products chasing too little market share at the moment,” Wood said.

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