Pardon me while I step up onto my soap box here for a minute. We’re not too far removed from Mobile World Congress 2019 out in Barcelona, and there was a ton of awesome news on the future of 5G, and some really cool new products and smartphones that dropped. But there’s one major trend that came out of the show that I really can’t get past: foldable phones.
Now, listen. I’ve been trying to get behind the concept because I clearly understand the reasoning behind the concept and the potential that it provides. Smartphones have been in a bit of a rut from an innovation standpoint with the only real upgrades coming in the form of more and better camera lenses on these things. But that’s really about it.
Consumers are craving something new, and the foldable screen really seemed to be what the doctor ordered. But this is a concept that still seems a few years away from becoming viable.
That said, smartphone makers—and even some companies not traditionally known for dabbling in this arena—have been quick to jump on the trend. Royole was first to market with their FlexPai folding device late last year. Samsung launched their Galaxy Fold ahead of MWC. Huawei teased a foldable phone at the show. Motorola confirmed rumors that it’s working on a foldable device. And the list goes on.
To be fair, every single one of these folding phones that we’ve seen are nothing short of engineering marvels. The mechanics all vary in unique ways, but at the end of the day these manufacturers have figured out a way to literally fold glass displays in half. It’s incredible to see, and almost gives you a little bit of anxiety as you bend the thing that you’re going to just snap it in half—but it just works. So credit to every single brand that has dropped a foldable phone for being able to execute on the concept.
But just because they were able to create something spectacular, doesn’t mean they’ve created the next iPhone or revolutionary consumer tech product. This is a category that’s very rough around the edges and clearly in a first-gen kind of phase.
Bottom line, foldable phones are not pretty to look at. And that’s a major cause for concern right now. They’re thick devices that look awkward and—in some cases—even feel awkward as your handling them. Add on top of that awkwardness the fact that these phones carry price tags around and above $2,000 and I just don’t see how companies can expect these to fly off the shelf.
Early adopter types will be there, eager to get their hands on these technological marvels. But for foldables to really take that next step and become something more than just a gimmick, a lot needs to happen—they need to get thinner; they need to come down in price; sleeker design concepts need to emerge. The list goes on.
So kudos to the early manufacturers of these devices for pushing the smartphone market in a new direction. But here’s hoping your second- and third-gen foldables can impress us in a different sort of way.