Galaxy Fold and Mate X: How foldable phones eclipsed 5G at MWC

After all the anticipation, when 5G finally had its big moment -- something brighter and shinier stole the show.

Huawei Mate X
Huawei Mate X

5G has been the favorite buzzword at MWC here in Barcelona for the past few years, but 2019 is when it truly arrived.

Now that it’s here, all anyone can talk about are foldable phones

The foldable eclipse

Mobile companies also had a tricky time at MWC trying to drum up excitement over 5G phones, because it’s hard to see or even fully experience the difference the next-generation networks will bring.

The limelight was instead well and truly stolen by visually impressive foldable phones with their flexing wraparound screens. There is some crossover between 5G and foldable devices — the Mate X, for example — but it’s the spectacle of the folding mechanism that drew the crowds at the show.

“The foldable design has captured people’s imagination, but this was a technology we have been tracking for years now — it just so happens to coincide with the launch of 5G,” said IHS Markit’s analyst Wayne Lam. Foldable phones signal an evolution in mobile design that could change the future of phones and tablets as device categories, he added.

It’s no wonder that after years of phones looking markedly similar, people are excited to see something new.

“These folding devices come at an important time for the smartphone industry, when phone makers are struggling to differentiate their products and consumers are indifferent to this homogeneous ‘sea of smartphone sameness’,” said CCS Insight analyst Ben Wood in a blog post. The smartphone of the last decade or so has essentially remained “black touch-screen monobloc,” he said.

5G, for all its many promises, is unlikely to have a similarly profound impact on our everyday experience of owning a phone. Yes, it will make using online apps and services faster and more stable, but industry experts believe that the most exciting and important uses for 5G will be in business, the internet of things, smart cities and automobiles. More