The smartphone industry, with Apple as a notable exception, is increasingly focusing on foldable smartphones to rejuvenate the stagnant mobile market. Despite their introduction nearly five years ago, foldables, which feature screens that unfold like a book, have only slightly exceeded a 1% global market share.
Samsung has reinforced its commitment to foldable devices, especially with the release of its 5G Galaxy Z series in July. “We will continue to position our foldables as a key engine for our flagship growth with the clear differentiation, experience, and flexibility these devices have to offer,” a Samsung spokesperson stated to The Financial Times, which looked into the foldable market.
Counterpoint Research forecasts that by 2027, foldables could make up over a third of all smartphones in the over $600 USD category.
Other manufacturers, including Motorola, Huawei, Honor, and Google with its latest Pixel Fold (not in Canada yet), are also investing in foldables. Ben Wood, an analyst at CCS Insight, said, “Everybody now is betting on this, except Apple.”
Apple, while showing potential interest through patent filings for a foldable iPad, has not yet entered the foldable market. The company is known to take its time to enter new product categories. For the iPhone, its design has remained relatively the same since the iPhone 11 series in 2019.
Despite the industry’s enthusiasm, foldables remain a niche product. Counterpoint Research estimates that foldables will account for only 1.3% of the 1.2 billion total smartphone market this year. High prices and concerns about durability and utility are major deterrents for consumers.
Foldables are gaining a foothold in the premium segment in markets like the US and China. The high cost of these devices is seen as part of the market’s polarization between premium and lower-cost handsets. Samsung’s Z Fold 5, for instance, starts at $1,800 USD—just like Google’s Pixel Fold—while Honor’s Magic VS2 is priced at Rmb6,999 ($979) in China.
Convincing consumers to invest in these high-priced devices is challenging. “I do wonder if there are too many products chasing too little market share at the moment,” Wood added. Analyst Runar Bjørhovde from Canalys highlighted the high return rates of foldables as a deterrent to repeat purchases.
However, in China, brands like Honor and Huawei have found more success. Sales of foldables in the third quarter of 2023 more than doubled compared to the previous year, according to Counterpoint. Samsung dominates the global foldable market with a 73% share.
Having a foldable smartphone is something new and different, especially when iPhone designs haven’t changed beyond the rectangle. Will Apple ever release a foldable iPhone? Back in January 2021, it was reported that Apple was testing a foldable iPhone display, but any such device was “years away” and wasn’t even confirmed. It would be nice to see a new and radical iPhone design, beyond tick-tock chip and processor upgrades.