From seemingly nowhere, a recent smartphone innovation adds a second screen that folds over itself. These new foldable smartphones (“folds”) are the newest trend with many manufacturers already having a product. Samsung’s Galaxy Fold was the trailblazer that kicked off the race for folds while other companies like LG and Huawei have already started to make foldables. This recent trend has led Google to confirm and start production on foldables. While Apple, One Plus and many others have yet to comment, it’s safe to speculate that foldable phones are in the works for all smartphone manufacturers. Diving deeper into these phones reveals the faults these devices will succumb to when released to market. Many of these issues spawn from the design and the drawbacks consumers will be met with.
Design wise, foldable phones occupy an interesting spot in the current smartphone market, featuring a bulky design and ignoring normal camera locations. Many newer smartphones have started to adopt an all-screen phone with minimal borders or bezels. Many foldables relegate the camera to the backside of the screen to keep a bezel-less design. Foldables also feature a bezel nook on the backside for better placement of cameras and a speaker. This offers some interesting design choices that can really clean up an otherwise unsightly issue that all traditional phones face today. Foldables might have better bezels, but they still have issues to tackle in their display department.
One of the most outstanding issues that foldable phones face are the issues that arise with dual-screens. Having two screens come together to form a gigantic display is impressive, but it comes with many different sacrifices. For one, folded-up phones have terrible single displays as they are quite small. Over time, the smartphone market has been making its way toward larger screens with higher resolutions. Sacrificing this for two mini screens that combine into a larger unfolded one is itself an issue. Sacrificing the main single display for a stretched display is risky as many applications may not support or fully adapt to what the unfolded screen may offer. These screens are going to have a defined bend that will cut the screen between the two halves. This is going to be a downside to anyone who prefers the all-screen display that many current smartphones offer.
Foldables as a whole will have major issues handling drops and cracks. The folded screens could be easily cracked when exposed, rendering the dual-display pointless. Some foldables might not even be able to work without both sides being fully operational. The lack of protection of the inner screen should worry any consumer interested in buying, as the phone will be inherently prone to cracking. This is massive and contributes to the overall fragility of the device. With more phones becoming shatter-resistant, this could pose a major issue that some manufactures won’t have an answer to. Consumers will also be displeased when a price jump reveals itself to be larger than predicted.
Many still cannot be dismayed by the allure of a foldable smartphone, but there’s one thing that is sure to turn consumers away: price. Many companies who have announced their line of foldables have also announced the bar to entry. The foldable front-runner, Samsung’s Galaxy Fold, has revealed the starting price to be set at a whopping $1,980 dollars. Huawei’s Mate X dials in at around $2,600. With these kinds of prices, many consumers are going to be immediately turned off and away from foldables. The demand for cheaper smartphones has been around ever since the release of the iPhone 5c. Apple has found major success in this market with their budget iPhone XR series. I don’t see any manufacturer being able to successfully make a budget foldable and make a reasonable profit. These prices are going to turn a huge part of consumers away from foldables, but the battery life may be enough to lure consumers in.
Focusing too much on downsides to foldables is harsh, as there are definite benefits to owning a high-end one. One such area where foldables are better than traditional phones is battery life. For years on end, consumers have always looked for solutions to extending their battery life, preserving it or investing in mobile charging solutions. Each of these are solutions, but they require consumers to spend more just to get extra juice in their phone. With the advent of foldable phones, battery life complaints are sure to be a thing of the past. With the added space of another display, more batteries can be fit into the device to hold significantly more charge. As batteries get slightly better over time, foldables will have a huge advantage by having a higher charge capacity. Apple’s iPhone XS Max tops out at 3,174 milliamp hour (mAh) with Huawei’s Mate X runs at 4,500 mAh.
Foldable phones are on the way this year whether the consumers are ready or not. While there are some plus sides to owning a phone that folds, the downsides are detrimental to the overall usability of these devices. Despite the early adopters, most consumers will likely overlook the phone in favor of something more traditional and cheaper. With more foldables on the way, there is some hope for a different company to make use of the technology in a more simple and practical way. As time marches forward, foldable phones could be the next big innovation or a footnote in smartphone history.