Who Wanted a Folding Phone?

On Wednesday November 7th, Samsung stunned the tech world when they unveiled, for the very first time, their new Galaxy X phone, the world’s first mass-produced foldable phone. In concept, the idea of a phone that can unfold into a tablet-like display is admittedly cool. However, will people actually care?

    In the last few years, many technology fads have taken place. 3D Televisions, Smart Glasses like Google Glass, dedicated GPS devices, such as those made by Garmin, Modular Phones, and E-Readers, like Kindles, were the talk of the tech world during the height of their euphoria. However, these products were either replaced by better, more popular technology, such as smartphones and tablets replacing GPSes and E-Readers, or ultimately died out, like 3D TV’s and modular phones. So is it safe to say that flexible and foldable phones are just another tech fad?

    Samsung was relatively vague when it came to device specifications, possibly hinting that they haven't came up with a final design as of yet. However, we do know some basic hardware details. The smaller phone screen will be an LCD 4.6” panel, which can unfold to a seamless OLED 7.3” display. Google also just announced Android support for these devices as well, meaning that Samsung’s foray into this category won’t be the last, as many other manufacturers, such as LG, Huawei, and ZTE have announced plans to develop foldable phones.

    For all the manufacturers invested in this new form factor, I think they all ignored one crucial question, which is who would want such a device? There are a few points and counterpoints to consider.

    Firstly, at least for the first few years, the novelty of these types of phones will play a factor. A phone that can double in size when you unfold will inevitably grab people’s attention. In addition, there may be some practical uses in a device like this. Mobile gamers will certainly take advantage of the tablet sized screen, while also maintaining portability and pocketability. Creatives and artists can also use the ample space on the tablet. But what will the average consumer need this device for?

    If you’ve noticed a trend in the last few years, its that phones are getting bigger. With larger and larger screen sizes, we’ve nearly approached the point where a phone could plausibly be considered a tablet. Long gone are the days where the original iPhone, with a 3.5” screen, could be considered large. Phones like the Galaxy Note 9 and the iPhone XS Max are 6.4” and 6.5” respectively. The smallest tablets usually hover around 7-8 inches big. So why develop advanced flexible screen technology to enable a phone to become a tablet when there are already large phones that could be considered as such?

    The rumoured price of this phone, due to launch sometime next year, is above $1500, due to the countless innovations in display technology, so price, at least for the first few years, may be the biggest factor for the common consumer to not purchase this device.

    For me at least, the abundance of large phones as well as the prohibitive price of the phone, discourages me, and probably most people, from buying foldable phones in the very near future. Folding phones may have a place in our mobile, connected future, but most likely may be the next overblown tech fad.

Noah Kantor