Foldable Phone Designs are about to get more interesting but also less diverse

The number of foldable phones launching each year is slowly rising, suggesting that these former novelty items are here to stay. To manufacturers’ credit, the phones are getting more reliable and attractive, even if their prices are still prohibitive for most people. With more players in the market, it’s bound to become a somewhat livelier place, with brands putting their own spins or changing designs to match or challenge their rivals. It now seems, however, that the still niche foldable phone category is about to enter another tumultuous phase with new designs that could shake up the market and some companies throwing in the towel, leaving only a few designs to stick and stagnate.

Triple Folding Phones

The biggest and perhaps only reason for a foldable phone would be to provide a device that can be used as a regular phone when wanted but can transform into a tablet when you want more screen real estate. The current crop of foldable phones does meet those requirements, though almost barely. As tablets, they’re painfully tiny even compared to the already small iPad mini and some 7-inch slates. As phones, some designs make them awkward to use because of their narrow and tall external screens.

One possible solution would be to have a large screen that can fold in three parts, turning into a phone-sized slab, albeit probably a bit thicker than even today’s foldable phones. Samsung has, in fact, been working on such a design for years and it finally showed off a prototype two years ago. It turns out that it might even launch its first tri-fold phone slash tablet later this year.

Designer: Samsung

This timeline is reportedly due to one of Samsung’s biggest rivals trying to make a move first. Huawei, who is rebuilding its empire in some markets, is rumored to be launching a foldable phone that transforms into a 10-inch tablet. Just for the title of being the “world’s first,” Samsung could be taking a big risk and making a leap of faith to get that triple foldable phone out the door quickly, even if it means repeating the mistakes of the first Galaxy Fold.

Stylus Support Inside and Out

One of the biggest draws of foldable phones is, of course, their big screens. They’re not just perfect for showing more content, but they’re also great for actually creating content. With tablets now being seen as productivity and creativity tools thanks to the iPad Pro, these foldable phones are truly powerful laptops you can fit in your pocket, at least in theory. Ironically, very few of the brands actually support such a use case with the right accessories. Even Samsung forces you to buy the S Pen Fold Edition if you want to scribble and doodle on your foldable phone like a notebook.

The newly launched mouthful that is the Honor Magic V2 RSR Porsche Design bucks the trend by actually including a stylus inside the box. Granted, the price of this limited edition would make you think it should include such an item, but you’re also paying for other luxuries at the same time. For example, you get two charging bricks instead of one. Some foldable phones other than Samsung don’t even advertise support for a stylus even if they’re capable of supporting one.

Designer: Honor

More interesting, however, is how the Honor Magic V2 RSR Porsche Design actually supports that active stylus not only on the large internal screen but also on the smaller cover screen. That one-ups even Samsung who is famed for its stylus-enabled Galaxy Note phablets, now sold under the Galaxy S Ultra brand. Honor is showing that such a set of features is possible, and it could lead to a long-overdue trend in the foldable smartphone market, presuming there’s still one in the next few years.

Design Monoculture

One of the reasons why the foldable phone market seems to have stabilized a bit is because of the number of players now in the ring. Of course, you have Samsung and Huawei leading the charge, but now you also have Xiaomi, OPPO, Vivo, Tecno, OnePlus, and Honor in the running. Unfortunately, there are whispers that two of these are bowing out of the race, and their absence could actually have an indirect though significant negative impact on foldable phones as a whole.

Those rumors claim that both OPPO and vivo are calling it quits in the foldable market. The cited reason is not exactly surprising, with both brands suffering significant losses in foldable phone sales last year and they don’t believe they can throw in more resources to recover. It’s unknown at this point whether OnePlus will also be following its cousins, though there’s a real possibility that these manufacturers will pull out sooner rather than later.

Designer: OPPO

While that indeed sounds like a win for Samsung and Huawei (and Honor), it might not actually be good for the entire market in the long run. Competition often breeds innovation, with these brands pushing each other to develop new designs and features at every turn. With only two contenders, each with their own separate kingdoms, there might not be enough incentive to push the boundaries, leading to stagnation and eventual death of the market.

Designer: Vivo

Uncertain Tomorrow

Of course, there’s still no confirmation that OPPO and Vivo are indeed making an exit strategy, but it does paint a picture that isn’t as rosy as these brands try to paint. Even with the popularity of clamshell-style foldables and with new models coming out year after year, actual sales might actually reveal a very different and less encouraging situation. Given the way technology is developing, foldable and rollable displays will eventually be a staple of tomorrow’s devices, but that doesn’t mean the market won’t experience a few flops first along the way.