From smartphones to flip phones and bending tablets: Why the future is foldable – USA TODAY
FOSTER CITY, Calif. — It’s hard to find a technology these days that appeals to most everyone, but recent experience suggests there is one the passes that extremely challenging test: foldable displays.
Products like the newly launched Samsung Galaxy Z Flip, the Motorola Razr, and even the initially challenged Samsung Galaxy Fold all use these impressive new screens, and their effect is, well, magical.
Virtually everyone who sees or tries one of these bendable smartphones in person is blown away by the technology and immediately understands the benefit: fitting a larger display into a smaller device. It’s simple, it’s straightforward, and, as my experience has shown, it’s incredibly compelling.
I’ve been using the “updated” version of the Galaxy Fold on a daily basis since it was re-released about five months ago, and I recently had a chance to spend some brief hands-on time with both the Motorola Razr and the Galaxy Z Flip. While there are certainly important differences between the devices (and the markets and people for whom they’re intended), they all share the ability to deliver a profoundly different experience from using the flat slabs of glass that every other smartphone has now become.
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Why foldable phones?
Opening up a device to reveal a large readable display just doesn’t get old.
Plus, it changes the way you think about and use your phone – it requires much more of a dedicated, concentrated effort than simply pulling out your phone all the time and glancing at the screen. In fact, because you need to be so much more deliberate, the act of unfolding a device actually decreases the amount of time you stare at your phone – and let’s be honest, these days, that’s a good thing.
The truth is, you can’t really understand it until you’ve had a chance to actually try one of these foldable phones – and I highly encourage you to do so – but I can tell you that I never cease to be impressed at how powerful the technology can be.
They certainly aren’t perfect – and noticeable screen creases are just a fact of life for these early generation devices, for example – but once you start to use them, potentially problematic issues like these screen fold dimples quickly start to fade away and become unimportant.
In addition, none of the first-generation devices available here in the U.S. support 5G – it’s simply too hard to fit all the necessary circuitry, antennas, etc. that’s required for next-generation wireless networks into these unique new designs.
Bent on change
Despite these concerns, however, I continue to be convinced foldable phones are going to make a significant impact on the market. While this is, in part, due to my own enthusiasm for the category, equally – or even more compellingly – important is the reactions that people have when they see me using any of these types of phones.
From TSA agents at airports who see every phone known to mankind to people eyeing the device at a restaurant or bar to casual observers while standing in line at the grocery store, the number of comments that these devices have generated is several orders of magnitude beyond any tech product I have ever used.
People are universally intrigued by foldable displays and the level of interest people have expressed in wanting to get one never ceases to amaze me.
The interest shows up in other ways as well. At the recent Samsung Galaxy Unpacked event where the Galaxy Z Flip was launched, for example, there were way more journalists, YouTubers and others gathered around the tables where they could try the Flip than those around the more functionally capable (and 5G-equipped) Galaxy S20 line of phones. It’s just much more exciting.
But the price is so high…
Though some have argued that foldable displays are nothing more than the latest tech novelty or gimmick – the “3D TVs” of the 2020s – my experience with the devices strongly suggests that those ideas could not be further from the truth.
To be sure, price points for this cutting-edge technology are still too high for mainstream buyer acceptance – the Galaxy Z Flip is the cheapest of the bunch at $1,380, while the Motorola Razr is $1,499 and the Galaxy Fold is a whopping $1,980.
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Once prices for foldable phones start to drop under $1,000 – probably at least 18 months to 2 years away – I think we’ll see significantly stronger sales.
In fact, I fully expect that with the inevitable improvements in quality and durability that future foldable displays will have – the Galaxy Z Fold already has bendable glass, which is a big step up versus the plastic display covers used on the Galaxy Fold and Motorola Razr – along with those expected price declines, foldable smartphones are going to be huge.
It wouldn’t surprise me if they became the majority of new phones sold within three to four years. Plus, as Lenovo has shown with the ThinkPad X1 Fold – expected to ship later this year – foldable laptops are on their way as well.
Right now, we’re still in the early days of foldables, and there are several hardware and software refinements that need to happen to optimize the quality and experience of using a device with a screen that bends.
Still, the technology is so captivating to so many people that I can’t help but think that our tech future is most certainly going to be foldable.
USA TODAY columnist Bob O’Donnell is the president and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, a market research and consulting firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services to the technology industry and professional financial community. His clients are major technology firms including Microsoft, HP, Dell, Samsung and Intel. You can follow him on Twitter @bobodtech.