Do consumers actually want folding smartphones?

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Do consumers actually want folding smartphones?
Image: Bloomberg

The days of flip phones are upon us. Yes, again. However, today’s folding phones are far different than their early 2000s relatives. Devices like Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip and Galaxy Fold, along with Motorola’s Razr and Huawei’s Mate X continue to grab a lot of media attention. However, one question remains: Do consumers actually want folding smartphones?

While they might be perfect for a flashy tech demo, these devices often come with some serious drawbacks. From an astronomical price tag to fragile components to operating systems that just aren’t ready, folding smartphones are facing an uphill battle.

Screen Dilemma

The idea of a smartphone that folds up to make transporting it easier is actually a really good one. That isn’t the problem, though. Unfortunately, technology hasn’t fully caught up with the concept.

Device manufacturers are trying to force something into the world that isn’t ready to be created. As a result, the first generation of folding smartphones has been devastated by a host of screen issues. Things started off poorly when Samsung had to delay the release of its Galaxy Fold after it essentially fell apart during its first real-world tests.

Since folding screens need to be made of plastic they are more vulnerable than the hardened glass displays found on the majority of today’s smartphones. Moreover, the hinge that makes folding possible is a hotspot that lets dust and debris get underneath the screen and ruin it.

The hinge also causes another problem—creases. After repeated folding and unfolding, plastic screens begin to develop a crease. No one wants to look at a display that’s anything short of gorgeous in 2020.

Poor Design

Folding smartphones are a huge marketing opportunity. It gives companies like Samsung and Motorola a chance to wow U.S. consumers with something they’ve never seen before. Meanwhile, firms like Huawei continue to stay competitive in the Asian market with their folding phones. However, there isn’t much to back up that marketing.

Most people don’t need to run three apps at a time on their smartphone. In reality, most foldable phone users will probably just have one app open on a bigger (uglier) screen.

Part of the problem is that app developers need to roll out support for dual-screen devices. Since they are so rare only the largest developers are focusing on this support. Android apps have never worked well on tablets and that isn’t going to change because of folding phones.

Meanwhile, the physical design of dual-screen smartphones leaves something to be desired. Many of these devices are overly clunky. For the reasons above, that form factor isn’t worth the extra screen real estate.

Pricing Woes

The wallets of early adopters are crying thanks to folding smartphones. Across the board, these devices cost thousands of dollars despite their flaws.

Samsung’s ill-fated Galaxy Fold launched for $1,980. That kind of money could translate to a new flagship non-folding phone, a decent tablet, and money left over to buy a plane ticket. Motorola’s Razr costs $1,500. Huawei’s Mate X costs $2,600.

Most quality laptops don’t even cost that much. It’s hard to justify spending upwards of $1,500 on a phone that really isn’t worth it in terms of performance or specs.

With all this in mind, the future of folding screens isn’t bleak. However, they might not be best suited for the smartphone world. Other folding devices could be more successful—if manufacturers fix the inherent flaws that come with a plastic display.

For now, the mass majority of consumers will continue to struggle with whether or not they need a folding phone. The answer is probably no for the foreseeable future.

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