It appears to be the year of the foldable, a term for a smartphone with a flexible screen.

This year, a plethora of foldable devices have debuted on the global market as electronics giants, primarily Chinese, attempt to catch up to Samsung in a smartphone category that it pioneered.

Analysts have questioned how large the foldable category can become, given the high cost of the devices and the lack of clear applications for them at present.

Everyone is enthusiastic about them, but do we really know how large the market is? Ben Wood, chief researcher at CCS Insight, emailed CNBC.

We are only at the beginning of the foldable story’s journey; this category is not yet fully developed.

Foldables Hit Global Market

In 2019, Samsung debuted its first foldable smartphone, essentially creating this category of smartphones. These devices have a single, bendable screen, providing users with a significantly larger display surface in a pocketable device.

Since the unveiling of the Samsung Galaxy Fold roughly four years ago, the South Korean giant has released a number of other devices. The Galaxy Fold series unfolds like a book, whereas the Galaxy Z Flip unfolds like a standard flip phone.

According to Canalys, Samsung accounted for 80% of global foldable shipments in 2022. The market anticipates that foldable phone shipments will increase by 111% annually to 30 million in 2023.

According to IDC data, these devices represent just over 1% of the global smartphone market.

Other companies are pursuing this potential growth in an effort to catch up to Samsung.

Last month, the Find N2 Flip was introduced by Chinese manufacturer Oppo, and Honor, a spin-off brand from Huawei, released the Magic Vs for international markets.

The chief executive officer of Lenovo, Yuanqing Yang, told CNBC on Wednesday that Motorola will release a new version of its foldable Razr device later this year. Lenovo owns Motorola.

It comes amid rising rumours that Apple is preparing to release a foldable device, though it may be an iPad and not a smartphone.

Foldables Have Lost ‘wow Factor’

Honor’s CEO, George Zhao, stated in an interview with CNBC last week that foldable devices still face a number of obstacles, particularly in terms of battery life, weight, and price. Honor’s Magic Vs costs more than $1,600.

But the push from electronics companies to launch foldables stems from a desire to break into the premium segment of the smartphone market, which is dominated by Samsung and Apple.

In 2022, high-end smartphones, defined as those that cost over $800, will account for 18% of the total handset market, up from 11% in 2020.

Runar Bjrhovde, an analyst at Canalys, told CNBC in an email, “As I see it, foldable devices have more to do with attempting to improve brand image by showcasing innovation than with selling large volumes.”

According to Bjrhovde, the “wow factor” may have worn off for consumers now that Samsung has had folding smartphones on the market for a few years. In order to compete with the South Korean electronics giant, Bjrhovde believes rivals will ultimately need to lower their prices.

The analyst stated that the form factor of the foldable phone is no longer surprising or unexpected due in large part to Samsung’s massive marketing investments, which have normalised the design.

In the future, he added, revolutionising foldables will be nearly impossible.

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