Foldables Market Gains Traction as a Lot of Vendors Join the Bandwagon to Showcase Their Strength in the Foldable Form Factor Segment

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3Q 2023 | IN-7065

Foldable screens have become common in recent years, thanks to the launch of new foldable devices by various smartphone brands. Since the very first foldable phone, the Royole FlexPai launched in 2018, a lot of other brands are following the trend and using the new form factor in their own devices. This technology is the latest innovation in the smartphone ecosystem that allows users to experience an extended and larger screen size, enabling device use in the form of a tablet when the phone is opened and as a compact smartphone when it is closed. The journey to foldable phones has been slow, but is picking up the pace now. Samsung, Google, HONOR, Motorola, vivo, OPPO, and TECNO have launched foldable phones; however, it might take a few more years of innovation and collaboration with third-party apps to build a foldable device accepted by the masses.

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New Launches at MWC 2023 and IFA 2023 Bolster Market for Foldable Smartphones


Foldables have gained traction in the smartphone market over the past 5 years, thanks to the launch of new devices by various brands. From the very first foldable phone launched by Royole FlexPai in 2018, brands like Samsung, Motorola, and Huawei have since followed the trend and introduced this new form factor to their portfolios. The journey to foldable phones as a notable share of smartphone sales has been slow, but is starting to pick up pace. In 2023, the market witnessed the launch of foldable updates and new devices from various brands, including Samsung, Google, HONOR, Motorola, vivo, OPPO, and TECNO. Notably, there were a few launches at MWC 2023 by OPPO, Motorola, and TECNO, followed by launches from Google in May 2023 and Samsung in July 2023 of its latest foldable devices, the Fold 5 and Flip 5, while HONOR launched the Magic V2 in September at IFA 2023, claiming to be the world’s lightest foldable smartphone. As the market for foldable phones matures, brands are expected to address the existing challenges and launch affordable options in the years to come. This will help broaden demand for foldable phones and attract a larger consumer base, but lower price points are needed for this to happen. ABI Research forecasts the market for foldable smartphones to reach more than 100 million units by 2028, from just over 15 million in 2022.

Impact of Foldable Phones on the Mobile Ecosystem


Despite a lack of volume, foldable smartphones have become mainstream with better designs, improved durability, and good battery life. With the influencing design trends catering to multimedia and productivity trends, foldable phones have appealed to many tech buyers who embrace the latest advancements in technology. Samsung remains the global leader in the foldable space and has a share of more than 80% in the segment, while other brands have started to find pace and are providing tougher competition to Samsung. China-based brands, especially Huawei, HONOR, and OPPO, have been highly active in their home markets. China is emerging as one of the biggest markets for foldable smartphones globally.

The rise of foldable smartphones has had a substantial impact on the mobile ecosystem. As more brands enter this space, it will create healthy competition, which is important for building this category and bringing more innovation in design, functionality, and durability. It should also help reduce price points and tempt consumers away from flagship smartphones. A recent example of this differentiation is the HONOR Magic V2, billed as the world’s thinnest foldable smartphone without compromising on features, and weighing less than the Apple iPhone 14 Pro Max.

Also, foldable phones have introduced a new dimension to mobile app development, requiring developers to adapt and optimize applications to provide seamless experience. Foldables not only bring a unique form factor, but also can be seen as expanding use cases in smartphones in the form of media consumption and entertainment, which is on the rise due to multiple Over-the-Top (OTT) platforms on these unique devices. The foldable segment has become an important part of the ecosystem and allows brands such as TECNO to enter the high-end segment of devices. The choice of foldable, either a “flip” phone (e.g., Samsung Flip 5 or Motorola Razr Plus) or a “fold” phone (e.g., Samsung Fold 5 or HONOR V2) shows how brands are also focusing on different consumer segments within the foldable form factor. The “fold” type phones are much larger and bulkier, but trade on the larger real estate of the unfolded display, while “flip” phones are more compact and preferred by consumer who want a pocketable phone with the flexibility of a normal sized smartphone screen.

Next Step of Innovation in Displays beyond Smartphones


Foldables have had a tough shift from regular smartphones, and they still need to go through a lot of changes in the coming years in terms of innovation and hardware, as well as price, to hit critical mass. Foldables currently contribute less than 2% of overall smartphone shipments globally and the adoption of foldable smartphones remains low. This may be attributed to the high price of the device and whether the needs of the consumer are being fully addressed by the user experience and form factor. Also, mediocre battery life, noticeable fold creases on the screen, and gaps in the hinge are a few factors many brands still need to address, delaying the adoption of foldable phones. Samsung has redesigned a hinge that enables the new phone to fold completely shut without a gap, even if it has taken its fifth iteration to correct the problem.

Foldables do bring some share of compromise, but brands need to identify issues like improvements in battery life, better IP ratings, crease-free screens, and slimmer, lighter designs to attract more consumers. Also, it cannot be ignored that Apple, being a leader in smartphone innovation, has yet to launch a foldable device and, according to ABI Research, is not likely to do so any time before 2025. Apple has a cautious approach to the foldables sector and is perhaps playing the waiting game to see what form factors and use cases stick best before launching a foldable phone with compelling features. The foldable market has abundant room for growth, yet it remains to be seen if it can move from being a niche technology toward mass adoption. New entrants and innovations will undoubtedly support growth, improving build quality and reducing price, as no foldable has yet been launched under US$999.

A next step of innovation in displays is in the form of rollable screens, but this looks quite far away for smartphones for the moment, due mostly to cost. Rollable screens in TVs are already in the market with LG offering a rollable Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED) TV, while the concept of rollable screens on a laptop or wearable is fascinating and offers a compelling pitch for the future as the industry seeks more innovation. Specifically, Lenovo has showcased a concept laptop with a rollable screen that grows taller with the double tap of a button. In smartwatches, rollable can be used to extend the screen by expanding the outer frame of the watch. However, time will tell how the industry adapts to this new display development and whether it can deliver the technology with better and more affordable options.



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