Every year in the smartphone world, there’s always a certain design or technology trend that one manufacturer like touts first and everyone also copies because it seems like it’s what the market will want, usually based on the press coverage it gets. In 2016 that was multiple cameras , in 2017 it was the removal of the headphone jack(which we still hate) and 2018 had the notch . 2019 however, has a more challenging news grabbing benchmark point for smartphone manufacturers to pursue: the impressive, yet maybe unnecessary foldable phone.
First rumored in at least late 2017, foldables as they are called have finally come to life, with the past two weeks bringing out working, varyingly impressive models from Samsung and Huawei and concept devices from everyone else who wants to jump on the foldable hype train.
In Samsung and Huawei’s case, these devices are perhaps the next iteration of what a smartphone will be, along with being an obvious play at eager techie early adopters who will easily pay up to USD $3000 for a device that screams “the future” (wonder if any of those exist in Zim, no pointing fingers please).
But in the case of companies like Oppo, TCL, Royale and even LG, who all have devices that are either at a concept stage, or sort of pull off the same functionality as a folding phone, one thing is for sure: they just want the hype associated with folding phones. This alone validates foldables, or at least folding phone-like technology, as the new benchmark every smartphone manufacturer has to reach in 2019 to seem “cool” or relevant, whether or not people actually buy those devices. This is why all of these concept level devices companies are pushing as much press as they can to their very much unfinished devices.
TCL alone (which makes BlackBerry Android devices mainly) showed off six different design concepts at Mobile World Congress, yet all of them are aimed for 2020. So, they aren’t even trying to act like these are products you’ll see soon, they just want people to notice that they can make foldable phones as well.
Oppo has a similar train of thought , showing a concept device very similar to the headline grabbing Huawei Mate X, which they haven’t even bothered to announce any version of a release date or any word on how they will implement the technology. It’s all a very clear move to just grab some headlines and perhaps point the press to their current devices as well.
LG might be the funniest of these companies however as they didn’t unveil a folding phone, but instead introduced a case that attaches to the LG V50 which provides the phone with a second screen in the same way Samsung’s Galaxy Fold main screen works, except it looks like two phones joined together, which it sort of is. It’s arguably a more feasible implementation, but one has to wonder if LG wasn’t able to come up with something like this all these previous years (especially considering other smaller companies did) and instead waited to unveil such a technology in a time where dual-screen like foldables are all the rage(and maybe embarrassed themselves in the process).
Even Apple, the iOS king who prefers to seem different from the rest of the “Android peasants” couldn’t resist the news around folding phones that during the past week while everyone was looking at folding phones, it let a patent “leak out” for what seems to be a foldable iPhone. Again, a case that could seem like it’s just a coincidence, but let’s face it, would Apple ever actually admit it was trying to compete for the limelight with the Android community? And again this is a patent, Apple could probably never put this design into production but it doesn’t need to, like half of the companies mentioned here, all Apple needs is the publicity around these products, publicity which right now, counts as a sort of verification stamp of your company making “the best/most advanced tech around”. It’s obviously not exactly an accurate or fair form of recognition, but this is how the tech industry works a lot of the time. The Google Pixel’s single camera outperforms everything else on the market right now, yet most people will get excited over phones with dual or triple cameras because those seem more impressive.
So foldables themselves, (which we’ll talk about more in detail), are still at a point where they have to define themselves and prove their worth as consumer/productivity devices. But their use as publicity devices? As statement pieces or “benchmarks” for a new standard that all companies should try and reach? They’ve pretty much nailed that part. And now we’ll see just how worthwhile that benchmark point really is.