Months later, Huawei and Samsung foldable phones are still a no-show
Samsung Galaxy Fold and Huawei Mate X were scheduled to go on sale this April and June respectively. None of the two phones have launched in the market.Updated: Jun 21, 2019 18:41 IST
Where are the foldable phones?
2019 kicked off with Samsung and Huawei unveiling their first foldable phones. Expected to disrupt the smartphone space, foldable phones are considered to be the next big thing. Almost three months since the official unveiling, foldable phones are yet to hit the market.
What happened to Samsung Galaxy Fold?
Samsung followed Royole Corp to become the second smartphone company to unveil a commercial foldable phone, Galaxy Fold. Priced over Rs 1,40,000, Samsung Galaxy Fold is also the most expensive Samsung smartphone so far. At the launch event, Samsung showcased a variety of features especially designed for a foldable phone. The phone was scheduled to launch in April this year.
In what may be reminiscent to the Galaxy Note 7 fiasco, Samsung had to recall all the early units of Galaxy Fold after reviewers reported breaks, bulges and blinking in the display. Fortunately, unlike ill-fated Galaxy Note 7, Samsung Galaxy Fold is still likely to make it to the market. According to Samsung Display Vice President Kim Seong-cheol, “Galaxy Fold is ready to hit the market.” Samsung has also said that it has fixed all the issues related to the display. Right now, there’s no fixed launch date.
What happened to Huawei Mate X?
Huawei’s problems are not restricted to just technical issues that Samsung is facing. Caught in US-China crossfire, Huawei is taking its own time to launch the foldable phone, Mate X. The company told CNBC earlier this week that it had pushed the launch of Mate X to September. The Huawei foldable phone was initially slated to release in June.
“We don’t want to launch a product to destroy our reputation,” a company spokesperson told CNBC citing Samsung’s troubles with Galaxy Fold.
The engineering challenge
Corning, one of Apple’s iPhone glass suppliers, pointed out Samsung and Huawei currently offer plastic polymer-based models. Experts believe polymer material enables flexibility but the same cannot be said about the quality in long-term. Corning said it is working on flexible glass displays which would be much superior to the polymer material.
Motorola, which is also working on a Razer foldable phone, pointed out the limitations that the first generation of foldable phones face.
“We have been testing a plastic OLED device with plastic film on top,” Motorola VP of Global Product Dan Dery told Engadget earlier this year. “The fact that you’re touching [that kind of display] with your nails is scratching it. It has a short life right away; it starts dying the day you unpack it. But it’s beautiful. That first day, it’s beautiful.”
Parv Sharma, analyst at Counterpoint Research, said, “Folding devices complicate integration. There is the new software needed to correctly render on a second screen. The mechanics of the hinge is an added complication. The protection of the displays is an added concern. The power management of two displays needs to be dealt with, etc.”
A missed opportunity?
Both Huawei and Samsung had marketed the foldable phones as “luxury devices” with prices crossing $1,900. Considering the hype and interest among users, both companies had an opportunity to make money. Experts, however, believe the delay in the launch of foldable phones won’t hit Huawei and Samsung.
Faisal Kawoosa, founder and analyst at research firm TechArc, said, “…the product type is a very niche, extremely niche. It would not have a large impact on the market as well as the balance sheet of the respective companies.”
“I think companies hurried about them in thinking of commercialising them this year. The concept should be given some more time. Net I don’t see its delay a major issue in the industry. Right now brands are attempting to showcase their solutions for full screen. That’s what industry is busy with,” he added.
Parv added that it’s too early to give up on the foldable devices.
“When devices become more elegant, durable, and lower cost, this will become mainstream. For many years we used to argue about what will be the future ID of smartphones—touchscreen or QWERTY. We know how that ended,” he commented.
“After many years of identical design and ID’s, there was a rush to get something new into the market. Being a market leader and first to a new technology really helps a brand. So, certainly there was a rush to get these new form factors out,” he added.