September is a time for returnings and one of the most intriguing promises to be the return of the folding phone. At the beginning of the year tech commentators were sad to be returning their Samsung Galaxy Folds with, well, folds in them. It turned out that the super AMOLED displays were not as robust as they needed to be and repeated bending backwards and forwards produced nasty wear marks in the screen. Since the pre-launch of the Galaxy Fold in February 2019, Huawei’s Mate X with 5G mobile and further folding devices from Xiaomi, Sony and Motorola have all been trailed.
Inside or outside? Samsung decided to fold the screen inside, giving it protection but requiring a cleverly designed hinge to allow the screen to lie flat. Royole, who produced the very first folding screen phone, the FlexPai, chose to fold the screen on the outside of the phone. A changable outer display instantly shows phone information without having to open the device but makes it vulnerable to scratching. Motorola have followed Samsung with their retro Razr clam-shell design while Huawei and Xiaomi have opted for outside displays. Sony’s phone-become-tablet doesn’t fold at all but slides and therefore has a gappy blank line down the centre of the tablet display.
All the big players have access to the same technology but have come up with different products. Which new product will win? With technical issues out of the way, Corbeau reckons this will come down to function rather than innovation. All the folding phones (with perhaps the exception of the Xiaomi) will cost the best part of $2,000. Customers will therefore be cash-rich and space-poor mobile workers.
The Galaxy Fold could meet the needs of business women and men who want to carry a tablet but only have space in their suit pockets and handbags for a phone. These train, plane and automobile warriors will not be checking their social media a hundred times a day and therefore concerned about the lifetime of the fold. Huawei’s Mate X on the other hand offers faster 5G streaming and neat camera technology. For customers, think Instagram influencers and other social media workers whose down-time is work-time and work-time is me-time.
And for Joe and Jo public? well if a 16:9 video format can be provided by the Razr at a less aspirational price, Motorola might well have a hit on their hands.