Anshel Sag (FORBES): Like It Or Not, The Future Is Full Of Foldables

Galaxy Z FLIP mirror
Galaxy Z FLIP mirror

I first got a chance to play with Lenovo’s prototype foldable devices 3 years ago at Lenovo Tech World, and I’ve been excited about the emerging category ever since.

It’s not just me, though—lots of people recognize the potential of foldable devices. Foldables were back in the news last week with the unveiling of its new Galaxy Z Flip device.

I’ve had the older Galaxy Fold Foldable Phone for 6 months, and people I show it to are constantly blown away and immediately start asking questions. In fact, in my time as an analyst and as a journalist, I’ve never had more people approach me about a device. While a lot of people still don’t quite get foldables, I believe there will eventually be a foldable for everyone. Let’s take a look at where this category currently sits and where it’s heading.

The Current Foldable Market

Currently, the only foldables presented as viable products are PCs and smartphones. Many of those devices are still in their first or second iterations. At CES 2020 in January, Lenovo announced, to much excitement, the ThinkPad X1 Fold, a business-centric foldable laptop with a modular keyboard for typing. Foldables in general were the talk of the show, including concepts from Dell and Intel (which I covered in my CES recap).

On the smartphone side, last year Samsung launched two iterations of the Galaxy Fold. The second time was the charm and it has sold quite a few units—an estimated 500,000. This number is quite good considering the fact that the first Galaxy Fold had issues and was recalled. Furthermore, it sells for $2,000 a piece, which is by no means a cheap smartphone, even by today’s standards and $1,000+ flagship phones.

You also have Huawei’s Mate X, which is a foldable device with an outward facing screen that unfolds into a tablet (unlike the Galaxy Fold which opens like a book). This ultimately comes down to personal preference, but I prefer the Galaxy Fold—especially since you can’t get the Mate X easily outside of China. The fact that there are already two types of phablet foldables is a good thing for the market, because it gives people choice. Unfortunately for Huawei the Mate X doesn’t have access to as many markets as it could have due to political issues.

Last year Lenovo was supposed to take pre-orders for the new Motorola Razr foldable, but ended up delaying pre-orders until this year. It timed its launch for the same week Samsung announced the Galaxy Z Flip. Motorola’s own strategy around the Razr seems weak and has been plagued with issues regarding the device’s longevity. Additionally, the Razr sells for $1,500 with an inferior chipset to the newly announced Galaxy Z Flip. The Z Flip has a much faster processor and more mature display technology for a ‘mere’ $1,380.

Still, customers must tolerate some compromises if they opt for this current early generation of foldables. Namely, I’m talking about the seam in the display where the hinge is located, and the fact that many of these displays are still very susceptible to scratches.

That said, I’ve had my Galaxy Fold for 6 months and I have not damaged the screen—even though I have gotten sand and other particulates into my pocket and phone. The Fold really surpassed my expectations and did much to build my confidence in the overall foldable category. Stay tuned for a full review sometime soon.

The Future of Foldables ( By Anshel Sag )

I think that most of the industry will coalesce around two form factors, the foldable and flippable. I think most companies will offer at least one device for each type of foldable, since different people want different things from their phones. I personally love the idea of having a phone that can transform into a tablet whenever I want to enjoy content on a much larger screen. I’ve never been much of a tablet user before, but if it could fold down to the size of a smartphone, that would be perfect for me. Flip foldable phones don’t really gain any utility from their folding capability, aside from the fact that they are more portable and compact and some can stand on their own. Still, this could be attractive to many people.

I’ve noticed that different people gravitate to each type of foldable, showing that there really isn’t one right form factor—it all comes down to personal preference.

I believe we could also see devices that incorporate multiple hinges with multiple screens, or perhaps devices that roll up. Right now, the Galaxy Fold has a front-facing screen and an inside screen that opens into a large tablet. I believe that second screen could potentially get utilized differently. There is also a possibility we could finally see some wearable foldable devices that toggle between being a bracelet and a phone (a concept that has been around for a very long time in industry imagination).

That being said, I’m not sure many people will want to wear a phone on their wrist—especially with weight considerations in mind. Additionally, display, battery and processing technology are not yet where they need to be for such a device to be possible. More

Anshel Sag

By Anshel Sag Contributor Analyst, Mobility & VR FORBES