Last year, foldable phones accounted for just a fraction of the $1.3 billion smartphone market and are expected to reach just 1.2 percent by 2022, according to Counterpoint forecasts. With the industry experimenting with various form factors, designs, materials and OS variants, the share of foldable smartphone shipments will remain in the low single digits for the foreseeable future.
Analysts noted that Samsung has been leading the segment in terms of design, marketing and shipments, capturing more than 80 percent of the foldable market last year. The company also has the strongest lineup, with various models including second-generation flagships. But Samsung faces more competition this year, including the release of Huawei’s acclaimed Mate X2, Xiaomi’s MIX Fold, and the possibility of vivo, OPPO and TCL to release folding screen products this year.
In the long term, Counterpoint remains bullish on foldables, but remains conservative on overall shipment growth until the end of 2022. Analysts believe that if folding screen products want to expand market share, three key issues need to be solved:
1. The price of foldable flagships has dropped to around $1,000 to $1,500.
2. More vendor players are starting to see this happening now.
3. The addition of Apple, Apple is expected to launch foldable products by the end of 2022 or most likely in 2023.
The Fold ‘n Roll design trailer released by TCL recently is interesting from an engineering standpoint, as it takes technology to create a truly robust business model. TCL is leading the way because the company can try to be more of a vertically integrated business. LG Display is also looking for a suitable solution for its state-of-the-art folding/scrolling screen portfolio. These display makers will have to find a way to scale their products to bring device prices down to sub-$1,000 levels to make them mainstream. Additionally, the volume of these innovative displays is critical for suppliers to achieve economies of scale.
A large part of the foldable product’s desire to reach scale also has the support of the entire industry. Without this support, OEMs’ growth strategies will become increasingly complex. Analysts believe smartphone makers, as well as Google and the Android developer ecosystem, will need to optimize software and applications for the new form factor, a massive fragmentation seen earlier. Reducing this risk to scale quickly will require Apple and Samsung to push some form factor factors, as they have always done, to become the industry standard.
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