Although smartphone screens have got bigger over the last few years, they’ve reached a limit. In such a scenario, foldables are the only form factor that gets more screen from a pocket-sized mobile device. Foldable devices, in fact, are opening up a new world of mobile productivity, giving you greater flexibility and more space to get work done. They are designed to make multitasking easy and seamless.
There is no limit to technology! The advancement of the world’s most ubiquitous device, mobile, happens to be an apt example of this that how it has evolved from a feature phone to the smartphone, which in particular, has brought about a paradigm shift in our lifestyle, besides making the world a global village, in a true sense. What’s more, the smartphones emerged as the saviour of mankind when the pandemic struck the world all of a sudden. From shopping to banking to a healthcare tool to the mode of entertainment etc., the handheld device was the only ray of hope for many, thanks to the technological progressions, both in terms of hardware and software.
Amid all these developments, the world is witnessing the beginning of a new chapter in the form of foldables, which have reasons to grow in the days to come. Although smartphone screens have got bigger over the last few years, they’ve reached a limit. In such a scenario, foldables are the only form factor that gets more screen from a pocket-sized mobile device. Foldable devices, in fact, are opening up a new world of mobile productivity, giving you greater flexibility and more space to get work done. It’s not just a phone, it can a smartphone, tablet and PC all in one, designed to make multitasking easy and seamless, according to experts.
Faisal Kawoosa, Founder and Chief Analyst at Techarc, said, “There is something new and fresh in the smartphones which is changing the form factor after several years. It is the form factor which eventually all smartphone OEMs will foray into, hence it’s a new era for mobile phones.”
Although there are a very few players – such as Samsung, Huawei, Motorola, Xiaomi, and Oppo – in the business as of now, foldable display smartphones are seeing an upward trend. It seemed like a dream for many when Huawei and Samsung rolled out their first foldable display smartphones couple of years ago. While there were some apprehensions on certain parameters with regard to Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold and Huawei’s Mate X, there was a sort of excitement too following their launch.
However, it wasn’t a new concept then, there were phones that folded but definitely not with foldable display. Motorola, Nokia and Samsung were among few mobile OEMs (in the feature phone / early smartphone era) which had introduced flip / cover phones separating a physical keyboard and the screen. Back then, it was a breakthrough giving users a larger screen which was otherwise halved due to space consumed by a physical keyboard. While Nokia Communicator was more from business perspective, Motorola and Samsung flip phones were trendy among consumers.
Thanks to companies like Samsung, Huawei and Motorola for their incessant efforts, foldable display smartphones have now become the talk of the town. While Samsung has the Galaxy Z Fold series and the Galaxy Z Flip series to its credit, Huawei has the Mate X series (with a notebook design) and the recently-launched P50 Pocket (with a clamshell design) as its foldable offerings. Similarly, it’s Razr series for Motorola in the foldable segment.
The year 2021 had been remarkable for the foldable devices, as it also marked the entry of Xiaomi and Oppo into the given segment. A total of six new foldable smartphones – Huawei Mate X2, Xiaomi Mi Mix Fold, Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3, Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3, Huawei P50 Pocket, and Oppo Find N – entered the global smartphone market last year. 2022 is going to be even more significant for foldables, with Honor reportedly confirming that it’ll launch its first foldable phone called Magic V this year. Motorola, as per reports, is also coming up with its third generation Razr phone this year.
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India, a niche market
With all top brands such as Samsung, Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo likely betting on such devices, India’s smartphone market is set to be flooded with foldable phones this year. The all-new segment is expected to touch 3 lakh unit sales in 2022 from 1,75,150 units in 2021, a whopping 600 plus per cent on year jump, albeit on a smaller base, as per analysts.
“In terms of sales volumes, the market is likely to cross 300,000 units in 2022, which will be close to 7% of the luxe segment of smartphones,” said Kawoosa. Today, about 4.2% of the luxury segment – defined as phones priced more than Rs 50,000 – is in the foldable category. He added that in 2022, foldable smartphone revenues are expected to grow by 60% on-year, or Rs 3,200 crore, for the industry.
“India is one great opportunity for it. One, the people here are very ready and open to experiments when it comes to smartphones. This can be seen by the fact that almost all brands that entered India saw acceptance. So the different forms of smartphones, unless it was something really not worth. The second reason is foldable is a small niche market, and India’s luxe (above 50k) smartphone market is also very small. That way, foldable smartphones can really fit into the luxe category,” he noted.
Upasana Joshi, Research Manager for Channel Research at IDC India, said, “With foldables launching in the past year or so, the smartphone designs have undergone dramatic changes. And now with improvements in successive upgrades of likes of Galaxy Flip and Fold, they are more robust, pocketable, and widely accepted by consumers. Demand in H2’21 was much more than anticipated, however supply constraints led to lower sell out. Since the devices are still priced higher than the ASP of US$170-180 for India market, it will continue to generate niche demand.”
Advantage for Samsung
While foldable smartphone market is growing bit by bit, one device at a time, it’s going to be an early mover advantage for Samsung in terms of sales numbers. When the Korean electronics giant revealed its first prototype of a flexible display back in 2011, few people realized they were witnessing a glimpse into the mobile industry’s future. Now, a decade later, Samsung has shipped four times more foldable devices in 2021 than in 2020, exceeding the three-fold market growth that analysts had expected.
Consumer enthusiasm for Samsung foldables is exemplified by the success of the Galaxy Z series. In the first month since launch, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Z Flip 3 exceeded total accumulative sales of Samsung foldable devices in 2020, it said. A Counterpoint Research report predicted that by 2023, a 10x growth in foldable smartphone shipments is expected with more smartphone makers entering the foldable space.
According to data provided by Techarc, among the smartphone OEMs only Samsung has been able to establish itself as a technology leader through successful R&D and commercialisation of foldable form factor. With the result, the foldable smartphones have seen acceptability in the market resulting in uptake of its sales in 2021, when Samsung launched 3rd generation of Samsung Galaxy Z Fold as well as Samsung Galaxy Z Flip. Both the foldable smartphones have seen good response from the market, though foldable form factor sells more than the flip form factor.
The foldable smartphone form factor has not only helped Samsung to establish as a technology leader, but also established as a promising revenue opportunity for the brand which will excite other OEMs also to jump into the opportunity, found Techarc. For Samsung, foldable smartphone form factor is expected to fetch over Rs 2,000 crore of revenues in calendar year 2021, which will be equal to around 5% of company’s revenues from the smartphone business. This will translate into 7 times growth in foldable smartphone revenues for the company comparing calendar year 2020, as per the Techarc findings.
“By now Samsung is already with its 3rd generation of foldables and when in 2022 other OEMs could go commercial with their foldable smartphones in the Indian market, Samsung would have 4th generation. Obviously that gives buyers confidence to go with a brand which has been doing it for some time. Also from brand perspective, Samsung is the only OEM which has real user inputs on this form factor. One may do several lab tests, but eventually with consumer feedback, you come to know where the rubber meets the road,” opined Kawoosa.
Upasana Joshi of IDC India agrees with Kawoosa’s opinion that it’s going to be an early mover advantage for the Korean company. She said, “Samsung certainly has the advantage especially in India market, where other brands with similar devices have not forayed yet.”
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Big screen and more
The foldable smartphones, as per Techarc findings, offer unique proposition for users in the luxe segment, and going forward in premium and sub-premium segments, where the users can continue using the smartphones without any compromise on the pocketability (portability) of the smartphones as well as transform it for rich content consumption that includes videos, reading and gaming in some cases.
So what advantages these phones are going to bring, besides offering a big screen size? Kawoosa said, “This is leading to convergence of devices and convergence always brings in convenience. I have been using it as my primary device for over 2 months now and I can say that as a user it has reduced my need of working on a laptop significantly. I can read everything on it, send and receive mails, etc. So not just for entertainment and gaming, foldable is very suitable for enhancing productivity over smartphones.”
“Bigger screen size means more media consumption, content creation. Apart from this, pocketability, especially for the FLIP design, is a plus. Also with multiple screens in FOLD design, multitasking on different apps is convenient, and when opened can be used as a tablet as well. Lastly, the alerts flashing on front screen ensure the device need not to be opened fully for usage,” said Joshi.
Prabhu Ram, Head-Industry Intelligence Group, CMR, is of the similar opinion that foldable phones are portable and make multiple use cases possible – including gaming, binge-watching content, making comfortable hands-free video calls, or even, hands-free group selfies.
Purchase motivators and Consumer concerns
There are distinct foldable phones aimed at specific consumer cohorts – productivity focused vs uber-cool lifestyle statements. New consumer survey insights from CyberMedia Research (CMR), point to Indian consumers warming up to foldable phone form factors. An overwhelming 81% of those surveyed as part of CMR’s Unfold The Future Survey 2021 are positive and open to factoring a foldable phone in their future smartphone purchase.
87% of Samsung users stated that they are interested in upgrading to a foldable phone. 67% of Apple iPhone owners indicated their interest in factoring a foldable phone as their next smartphone purchase. 76% of OnePlus users and 52% of Vivo users are open to purchasing a foldable. Productivity enthusiasts believe foldable phones will help them on the go (38%). On the other hand, the fashion aficionados prefer to make a cool and stylish statement with the foldable phones (34%).
The earlier consumer surveys highlighted the consumer concerns with the durability of the foldable devices. However, as per the latest reports, consumers love water resistance (46%), increased portability (38%), and device durability (34%) that the latest foldable phones in the market offer. All said, consumer concerns around foldable phones persist. Four in every five of those surveyed are concerned about pricing. The battery life (59%) and device durability (56%) of foldable phones are the other major concerns that consumers have.
Prabhu Ram, Head-Industry Intelligence Group at CMR, said, “Until now, the foldable phones remained a novelty that early tech adopters sought. Beginning 2021, and the launch of the third-generation foldable phones from Samsung, we are now witnessing an early mainstreaming of the foldable form factor. Our survey insights point to the early majority being warm to foldable phones. In 2022 and beyond, with new category entrants in the fray, we believe the foldable phone market will see a boom.”
Steep adoption to continue
With more handset players joining the fray, it’s going to be a different experience altogether for the India market. While it will attract more consumers than before, the value-conscious buyers will seek to wait for further mainstreaming of the form-factor as well as price-point innovations, before considering switching from the more conventional rectangular slabs. Handset brands like Xiaomi and Realme, which are known for disrupting the market with aggressive pricing, could be a game-changer in years to come. Till then, foldable display smartphones will remain a niche buy.
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With the Oppo Find N, we are optimistic to change people’s perceptions about what a smartphone can offer: Tasleem Arif, VP and R&D Head, Oppo India
Smartphone technology has entered an era of limitless innovation with new form factors ushering in an exciting new time. Though the foldable device has been previously released to the market, issues such as utility, durability, and user experience continue to impede foldable devices from being a more viable daily driver for most consumers.
Oppo has invested a significant amount of time and effort into coming up with a better approach to a foldable smartphone, experimenting with a range of form factors, hinge designs, display materials and aspect ratios, to create a new device that meets the needs of more users. Over the last four years, the Oppo team has been working relentlessly to find a unique solution resolving all the issues with foldable, and with the creaseless foldable – Find N, we have made this goal a reality. The device seamlessly engineered with over four years, six generation of prototypes and 448 patents is a proof of our constant effort and determination in providing our users the best experience.
The Flexion Hinge on the Oppo Find N brings together 136 components ensuring a smooth fold. Oppo’s unique water-drop hinge design solves some of the biggest pain points in foldable devices by widening the angle of the fold in the display and offering a buffer when the display folds, resulting in a minimal crease as compared with other devices.
The landscape aspect ratio of the inner display makes the experience of reading, watching videos or playing games incredibly seamless. With a range of software features that take advantage of the folding display, FlexForm Mode on the Oppo Find N gives users the flexibility to adapt the device to a wide range of usage scenarios. Oppo Find N can convert into a mini laptop allowing users to take notes without holding the device. Since the Find N can freely stand at various angles, the device also serves as its tripod, making 4K HD time-lapse imaging, video calls and online meetings easy and hands-free. Technology enthusiasts have appreciated the device, creating much enthusiasm worldwide.
With the Oppo Find N, we are optimistic to change people’s perceptions about what a smartphone can offer and begin making foldable devices more accessible to an even larger audience.
We are expecting the launch of at least a few foldable phones this year: Anku Jain, Managing Director, MediaTek India
The smartphone industry is always focused on innovation and offering people smarter and better devices. Device manufacturers are keen on taking smartphones to the next level and the incorporation of foldable displays is expected to be the next innovation.
While the foldable phone market is still in a nascent stage at present, people are beginning to show interest, prompting phone makers to invest heavily in developing foldable smartphone models.
Further, with foldable phones set to provide users with larger and more optimized screens, and thus more enhanced viewing experiences, it is fair to say that at least a segment of the Indian population would be keen on trying them out. Accordingly, we are expecting the launch of at least a few foldable phones this year, and, based on the demand, the number could go up in the years ahead.
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