Foldable Tech Becomes the Next Innovation for Smartphones

Every year, major smartphone companies have a launch event or two, putting out new devices and updating their range of flagship smartphones. Every release, these companies try to create some form of innovation in order to make their smartphones better. A bigger screen, multiple rear cameras, face recognition, and other features are only some of the many innovations that these companies have made. However, for the past couple of years, these innovations seem to have become repetitive, with smartphone companies stagnating in multiple ways.

Almost every major launch over the past few years has left consumers, investors, analysts, and more significantly unimpressed. The iPhone X launch in 2017 may have created significant interest within consumers, but everyone has been left hanging since that release as they await the ‘next big thing' in smartphone tech. There was a widespread belief that innovation had somehow erased itself from the world of smartphones, never to be seen again. Fortunately, the industry listened to the consumers, acknowledged these fears, and responded at the Mobile World Congress this year by bringing back the 'wow' factor in a significant way.

Unfolding the future

Samsung and Huawei have taken it upon themselves to lead the industry into a brave new era by introducing an entirely new form factor - the foldable smartphone. In the week leading up to MWC, Samsung unveiled its version - the Galaxy Fold - at its own Unpacked event in San Francisco. Huawei followed suit at MWC with the launch of the Mate X, sparking frantic debate over which device is better.

The key difference between them is that while the Samsung Galaxy Fold opens up like a book to reveal a double-sized screen on the inside, the Huawei Mate X's dual screen folds around the outside of the device. The latter certainly won the hearts of analysts and bloggers at the MWC, as it was named 'Best New Connected Mobile Device'.

While it's been a long time since consumers have been this excited, industry analysts are still left wondering whether these innovative devices are finally going to revive the ailing global smartphone market, which saw its worst year ever in 2018.

The industry's fingers are tightly crossed in the hope that foldable devices will help buck this trend. And while these revolutionary devices undoubtedly represent an exciting new chapter in the smartphone story, I don't believe they will lead to a massive bump in shipments - at least not in 2019.

There are a number of reasons for this opinion. With price tags hovering around the $2,000 mark, the hefty amount of money required to purchase one of these devices is likely to turn off the vast majority of consumers. There will also be a very limited supply from the vendor side during 2019. Truly, the only brands that are even ready at this stage with foldable smartphones for the market are Samsung and Huawei, and their devices aren't going to be launched until the end of April and some point in June, respectively.

Despite the genuine buzz and excitement surrounding the arrival of these devices, a combination of limited supply, late launch dates, and hefty price tags are likely to delay this long-awaited innovation in the smartphone space and prevent it from driving any major jump in shipments in the near future, both regionally and globally.

IDC's latest forecast supports this assumption, with the IDC Mobile Phone Tracker for Q4 2018 predicting that the GCC will see a 2.3 percent year on year decline in smartphone shipments in 2019. As with all technology innovations, this exciting new form factor will not go mainstream until later into the lifecycle of the product, after more brands are pushing foldable offerings at lower prices and economies of scale are generated. That will not be until 2020 at the earliest, or even until 2021. However, when it finally does happen, that will be the time when we will see the next major boost in smartphone shipments and sales all over the world.

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