There likely won’t be any meaningful changes in adoption of foldable phones next year

The evolution of the smartphone is unfolding—but we don't expect to see any meaningful changes in adoption of foldable phones next year.

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Smartphones are the central hub of consumers’ daily lives: Everyone owns one, and they’re where we spend most of our digital time.

By Jim Davis

While we don’t anticipate new hardware to ever fully replace the smartphone, we do expect the smartphone as we know it to evolve. Over the past year, several smartphone vendors have placed their bets on foldable devices as the next step in the smartphone’s evolution—however, we’re not convinced that 2021 will be the year of the foldable phone. 

Here’s why foldable phones are unlikely to make a mark on consumers in 2021: 

  • Smartphone vendors have yet to identify the ideal design. From flip phones (like Motorola’s Razer) to devices that open like a book to reveal a foldable display (like Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold), to rollable phones that essentially roll like a scroll (like Oppo’s concept design), and devices with wrap around displays (like Huawei’s Mate X), smartphone makers have yet to nail the foldable form factor that will resonate best with consumers. 
  • The technology has proven hard to perfect. For example, the ultrathin glass screen on Samsung’s previous Galaxy Z Flip phone was prone to scratches. And the screen of the Motorola Razr foldable smartphone reportedly peeled apart only a week after purchase for some users.
  • Price points are just too high. In an industry where already high smartphone prices are lengthening the upgrade cycle and driving consumers to mid-range devices, the high price point of foldable phones will be an insurmountable adoption barrier. For instance, the Motorola Razr and the Galaxy Z Flip cost $1,500, a price too steep for most global consumers, where just over one-quarter will spend more than $400 on a smartphone in 2021. 
  • The devices tend to blur the line between smartphones and tablets, which have seen resurgent popularity during the pandemic. Foldable phones typically expand the screen real estate to allow for an improved experience for digital activities that were traditionally done on large-screen devices like laptops and tablets, such as watching videos and playing games. But with tablets returning to growth during the pandemic—with Q2 and Q3 representing the segment’s only quarters of growth in the last five years—it could diminish interest among consumers whose primary interest in a foldable device is greater screen real estate. 
  • 5G is expected to maximize the utility of foldable phones, but 5G will still have limited coverage in 2021. 5G connectivity complements that utility of being able to comfortably watch videos and play games by enabling the devices to tap into the speeds and low latency needed for high-quality video and more complex games. However, by the end of 2020, just 15% of the world’s population will live in an area covered by 5G. More

By Jim Davis