With the launch of the Galaxy Z Flip 3 and Galaxy Z Fold 3, how mainstream are foldable phones, and who is the main competition? We asked some experts to weigh in following the devices’ unveiling last week.
The recent Samsung Unpacked event bought foldable phones into the spotlight, alongside releases like Galaxy Buds 2 and Samsung Galaxy Watch 4. With deputy editor Max Parker having had some early hands-on time with them, we can confirm these could be Samsung’s most complete foldables yet.
Foldable phones are still pretty new, and it seems some companies are pushing more foldables each year, with brands like Samsung, Microsoft and Motorola jumping on the bandwagon.
But, do people actually want a foldable phone? We asked some experts to see if they think Samsung’s Z Fold 3 will replace the Apple iPhone 12 Pro anytime soon.
Does Samsung do enough to make foldables mainstream?
“Yes and no. The Z Fold 3 still remains expensive and niche at $1800-plus and is a productivity device. The $999 Z Flip 3 on the other hand now costs as much as a high-end phone, and is cheaper than some premium 5G phones, getting it within the reach of the mainstream consumer,” Anisha Bhatia, Senior Analyst at GolbalData told Trusted Reviews.
“Samsung has made both phones more durable and water-resistant, so that along with the reduced price of the Z Flip 3 should help more mainstream adoption.”
Samsung has been working on improving its foldable range since 2019, which some experts say will help bring knowledge of foldable phones to more of the public.
“The likes of Huawei, Alcatel, Microsoft and Royole are all looking at how the decade-old touchscreen box could be reinvented. The fact that Samsung didn’t change much of the design and improved very specific things (IP rating, under-display camera, durability, etc.) hints that Samsung is carefully listening to consumers and adapting to bring to market an offer that matches the current (or future) consumer needs,” Marta Pinto, Senior Research Manager at IDC EMEA revealed to Trusted Reviews.
“By bringing devices to market in regular cycles, Samsung is building its knowledge on foldables and creating an early entrant advantage. Even if in very small volumes and at very premium price segments, the consumer insights and advantage will pay off if foldables become the next smartphone dominant design.”
The main two barriers for foldable phones seem to be the high price point and the durability.
“The sub £1,000 price point puts the Galaxy Z Flip 3 at a comparable price to models already in the market, such as the iPhone 12 Pro,” Jack Hamlin, Global Client Manager at Kantar Worldpanel, told Trusted Reviews.
“IPX8 certification is incredibly impressive, protecting the device from splashes and quick water submersion. Additionally, Samsung is offering consumers that pre-order the Galaxy Z series free Samsung Care+ for a year, further mitigating concerns of durability. It’s very easy to bet against these devices, but with reduced cost, increased durability… I feel that they will play a significant role in shaping the future of the foldable category.”
How are foldables doing in the general market?
“Foldables are a niche market. Since 2019 IDC estimates that this category has sold less than 10 Million devices in total (globally). In 2021Q2 this category represented 0.4% of the total smartphone distribution,” says Pinto.
There also seems to be a preconceived notion that foldable phones are less durable and more prone to damage because they fold in half.
“We still see relatively low rates of foldable adoption, from an anecdotal perspective I haven’t seen a single foldable device in the public,” Hamlin goes on to say.
“Consumers are undoubtedly cautious of the durability of foldable devices. There is still a way to go, notably an omission of dust certification, a common gripe amongst existing foldable owners that find dust specs ending up in the hinge of their devices.”
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Pinto also suggests that companies are aware of the issues in foldable phones.
“The high price point and the technical difficulties of replacing the screens may deter consumers but it won’t be a game-changer. Still…including Samsung Care as an offer in pre-orders shows that the brand is aware of that potential concern,” Pinto went on to say.
What impact would Apple have if it entered the foldable market?
“Samsung has staked a clear claim as a leader in the foldables market, but it’s notable that rivals like Apple have not felt the need to follow, raising the question of whether the level of consumer demand justifies the investment,” Leo Gebbie, principal analyst, Connected Devices at CCS Insight told Trusted Reviews.
“We believe that foldables remain focused on technology enthusiasts and early adopters at present, and are some way away from providing a truly compelling solution to the mass market.”
Currently, Apple does not sell foldable phones and have made few hints that it will be looking into the foldable market anytime soon.
“Apple has a huge install base. And whenever Apple gets behind a category, it helps the category take off and go mainstream. Apple is slower on the uptake of new innovations but when it does bet on something most major flaws are ironed out before the product releases,” Bhatia says.
Pinto also thinks that Apple will not release a foldable until its issues have been figured out.
“Apple is said to have patents in foldable displays. And many other brands already have tested the technology. Like Apple did with 5G, the brand will introduce a new form factor whenever it fits the brand strategy and consumers are ready to receive it,” Pinto says.
“Whenever the market is ready, other brands will want a slice of that game and Apple will be for sure ready to compete in that segment too.”