Foldable or Flexible: How Would You Like Your Smartphone?

In the wake of Apple's unveiling of a new iPhone at their most recent hardware event in September, ABI Research forecasts that smartphone shipments with some type of foldable, flexible, or rollable display will start picking up steam as early as 2020, with growth to reach 228 million in 2028. Not only will smartphones see flexible displays applied to their hardware, but tablets are also in line for this enhancement, which will bring the total number of devices impacted to 240 million over that timeframe. 

With the need to consistently improve technology across all of their devices, vendors are facing the realization that improved speed and bandwidth implementation isn't keeping up with the annual circulation of updated models; also, camera image quality isn't getting much clearer and screen sizes in their current form aren't getting much larger. Keeping ease of carry in mind, vendors are seeing foldable and flexible display screens as a way to offer larger-screened options without burdening consumers with bulky, unwieldy devices. 

Sorting Out the Kinks

While flexible, foldable, rollable screen technology is taking its first steps into the market, it remains nascent for the time being. As expected, companies thus far that have taken the leap are running into hardware-related complications. For example, the Samsung Galaxy Fold and Huawei Mate X have delayed releases of their respective phones until later in 2019. In other words, creating a smartphone with a screen that bends without compromising form factor is incredibly hard to do. 

However, once the hardware has been perfected and foldable, flexible technology is off and running, demand for these devices will skyrocket, as will prices that will easily eclipse Apple's — Samsung and Huawei's phones will retail at $1,980 and $2,600, respectively. Meanwhile Apple, Royole, and Motorola are other companies that have developed patents for flexible technologies. Speculation is rampant that with iPhone sales in decline over the last calendar year, Apple is in need of a home run to follow its recent announcement. As their competitors dive headfirst into flexible screen technology, the first iPhone with a flexible screen may not be too far off. 

What's Next for Tablets and Wearables?

Service providers will need to perfect the technology on smartphones first, but tablets will be the next devices to feature a foldable, flexible, or rollable display. Although we are likely still several years away from foldable display tablets in the mainstream, shipments are expected to grow to 7 million by 2028. The outlook is not as rosy for wearables, as the current foldable technology is prohibitive for comfort and usage. The Alpha smartwatch, made by Nubia, is the first of its kind with a flexible display screen, but it has a bulky design that other vendors are not eager to duplicate. The standard size of a smartwatch display also precludes the need for a flexible screen, so it's unlikely that wearables will see the same eventual traction as tablets on the foldable design front. 

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