Chinese language firms are launching foldable smartphones whereas rumors about Apple are making the rounds

The Honor Magic Vs is on display at Honor’s booth at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The nearly $1,700 device is Honor’s attempt to challenge Samsung in the foldable smartphone market.

Arjun Kharpal | CNBC

It looks like the year of the foldable – a term used to describe a smartphone with a bendable screen.

A slew of foldable devices have hit the international market this year as electronics giants, mostly Chinese, try to catch up with Samsung in a smartphone category it pioneered.

Analysts have wondered how big the foldable category can actually get given the high price of the devices and their current lack of a clear purpose.

“They’re all beautiful, everyone’s excited about them, but do we really know how big the market is?” Ben Wood, director of research at CCS Insight, told CNBC via email.

“We’re just at the beginning of the journey for the foldable story, it’s a category that’s far from mature.”

Foldable devices conquer the world market

Samsung launched its first foldable phone in 2019 and really created this category of smartphones. These devices have a single screen that can be bent, giving users a much larger display area in a device they can carry around in their pocket.

Since the Samsung Galaxy Fold was unveiled around four years ago, the South Korean giant has launched a number of other devices. The Galaxy Fold series opens outwards like a book, while the Galaxy Z Flip opens like a traditional flip phone.

According to Canalys, Samsung accounted for 80% of global foldable shipments in 2022. The market expects shipments of foldable phones to increase by 111% year-on-year to 30 million in 2023.

Still, these devices account for just over 1% of the overall smartphone market, according to IDC data.

That potential growth is what other companies are chasing as they try to catch up with Samsung.

Last month, Chinese supplier Oppo launched the Find N2 Flip, and Honor, the Huawei spin-off brand, launched its Magic Vs for international markets.

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

Speculations abound that Apple could be gearing up to launch a foldable device, though it could be an iPad rather than a smartphone.

Foldables have lost the “wow factor”.

Honor CEO George Zhao said in an interview with CNBC last week that there are still many challenges with foldable devices, particularly in terms of battery life, the devices’ weight and their high cost. Honors Magic Vs costs over $1,600.

But electronics vendors’ push to launch foldable devices comes from a desire for these brands to break into the premium end of the smartphone market, eh Samsung And Apple strongly dominate.

High-end smartphones — those costing over $800 — accounted for 18% of the total cellphone market in 2022, up from 11% in 2020, Canalys data shows.

“When I see foldable devices, they are more connected [an] Try to enhance the brand image by showcasing innovations rather than selling large volumes,” Canalys analyst Runar Bjørhovde told CNBC via email.

The “wow factor” may have waned for consumers after Samsung has had foldable smartphones on the market for a number of years, according to Bjørhovde, who said a lower price will eventually be needed for rivals to compete with the South Korean electronics Giant.

The foldable phone is “no longer surprising and unexpected, and a big part of the reason is Samsung’s big marketing investments that have normalized the form factor,” the analyst said.

He added that if you go ahead, it will be next to impossible to revolutionize foldables.

“Developments will be more about incremental evolution and lower price points. Lower price points will be particularly crucial for providers looking to challenge Samsung’s dominance,” said Bjørhovde.

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