The rise of foldable smartphones has been one of the most exciting developments in recent times. Whether it be the ‘flip’ or the ‘fold’, the major selling point is the convenience of having an overall smaller phone which still boasts a large screen once opened to its full size.
Flip phones bend on a horizontal hinge to create a compact device that fits perfectly into a pocket or a purse. Once you flip it open, you’ll have a full-sized smartphone display. By comparison, fold phones have a vertical hinge that opens just like a book. When folded, you have a full-sized smartphone on the front, which doubles in size when unfolded.
The history of foldable phones began with the iconic flip phones of the 1990s. The two sections of the clamshell design, a flat panel display and an alphanumeric keyboard, were connected by a hinge. However, sales began declining in the late 2000s and early 2010s following Apple’s first iPhone launch in 2007 and the increasing popularity of touchscreen smartphones.
Like flared pants and mom jeans, history did a full 360-turn when a new trend of foldable smartphones emerged in 2018. We have since seen a range of mobile manufacturers enter the foldable smartphone market with Google’s Pixel Fold, Oppo’s Find N2 Flip, Motorola’s Razr, Huawei’s Mate X, and Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold and Galaxy Z Flip.
The phones we use today, such as iPhones, are made of hard glass (gorilla glass), which cannot bend. So to develop a foldable smartphone, manufacturers had to come up with new material for the screen, which is flexible but won’t break in half.
The development of Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED) technology and ultra-thin glass (UTG) are the critical enablers of foldable smartphones making a comeback. Manufacturers have used this innovation to create flexible displays without sacrificing display quality.
A Chinese company called Royole released the first foldable smartphone, the Royole FlexPai, in October 2018. However, the phone had multiple malfunctions, including false touches and not being pocket-friendly.
So, jumping on the innovation bandwagon, Samsung, Motorola, and Huawei released the first generation of their foldable smartphones in 2019.
Impact on the mobile industry
As more manufacturers enter the foldable smartphone market, competition will drive further design, functionality, and performance innovation.
As users become more interested in these innovative devices, manufacturers can expect to see a surge in demand for foldable smartphones, leading to further investment in research and development and, subsequently, even more advancements in the industry.
Finally, the large, tablet-like screens of today’s foldable smartphones have created new opportunities for app developers who can create new experiences and expand the capabilities of existing apps. With more apps explicitly optimized for foldable smartphones, demand will again surge.
Issues with Foldable Phones
Whilst foldable smartphones have many benefits like the large screen size, multitasking capabilities, single camera set-up, and portability, there are still challenges to overcome in foldable smartphone technology.
Although there have been many advancements in the last five years, high costs, battery life, and finding more durable materials remain just some areas manufacturers must address as technology develops.
Foldable smartphones are way out of budget for many people, as manufacturers are selling them with a high price tag due to the ever-growing production costs.
Flip designs such as the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4 and the Motorola Razr 40 Ultra cost £899 and £1,049.99, respectively. Whilst fold designs are dramatically higher, such as the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 (£1,649), the Huawei Mate X3 (£1999), and the new Google Pixel Fold (£1,749).
Apple’s newest (and still flat) addition, the iPhone 14, remains cheaper than any of the above foldable smartphone options, with a price tag of £849.
Foldable smartphones will likely use more power since they feature larger screens and more active processors.
An iPhone 14 is set to last up to 20 hours with video playback, and up to 80 hours with audio playback. Meanwhile, a Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4 is said to have around just 10 hours of battery life.
Foldable smartphones are more prone to damage as the hinges and folding mechanisms are delicate. Also, the larger screens make these devices more susceptible to scratches and cracks, which are expensive to repair or replace.
Future of Foldable Phones?
This year, Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold will be on its fifth generation. Meanwhile, Apple is working hard to develop its first foldable mobile device by 2025.
CyberMedia Research anticipates a 65% year-on-year growth in the foldable smartphone market in 2023.
Overall, foldable smartphones making a return has had a positive impact on the mobile industry. Users can expect to see even more design, functionality, and performance innovation as manufacturers compete against each other… as long as you can afford it.