The struggle of Foldable Smartphones in the market: Case Study

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The foldable smartphones were intended to upend the mobile market, but it has flopped so far. Pitched last year as innovative introductions to a staid industry over the past decade, folding phones offered portability with screens that opened up to tablet size and could still handle much of a smartphone’s functions when closed.

But just as computer manufacturers predicted a boom in revenue, the worldwide coronavirus pandemic struck and threw off early excitement. Buyers trapped at home didn’t need an on-the-go multifunctional gadget, while lockdowns locked plenty of retail shops where buyers could get wooed up close by the dazzling gadgets. The economic shocks have also left fewer people yearning for a high-price system.

Days before the Galaxy Fold was expected to hit stores in April 2019, several tech testers announced their test units had crashed, with displays cracking, bulging, or blacking out. Samsung postponed the announcement for about five months as there were criticisms after the relaunch. The website for phone-repair, iFixit, which noticed design weaknesses with the initial Galaxy Fold test devices, acknowledged the additional upgrades of the re-engineered system but described it as “alarmingly fragile” still.

Samsung believed the Galaxy Fold could be opened and closed over 200,000 times before cracking, based on internal testing. But the tech review site, CNET,  found that after 120,000 folds, the hinge stopped operating. Currently, Samsung occupies nearly three-fifths of the emerging foldable mobile market. According to Canalys, Huawei Technologies Co. and Motorola of Lenovo Group Ltd. are the two most prominent competitors, with shipments of 500,000 and 200,000 respectively.

Initially, phone manufacturers had anticipated moderate sales but even those estimates proved to be high. Samsung had originally planned 6 million foldable-device shipments in 2020; they have reached one-tenth of that mark halfway through the year.

The price is part of the drawback of the foldable handsets. In an industry where even high costs for smartphones forced consumers to postpone upgrades, the sticker shock of foldable phones has discouraged all but the most enthusiastic early adopters, said Canalys analyst, Shengtao Jin. Many customers have never seen a foldable handset or kept one. The failure to operate the new gadgets in-person at stores has meant that few have the opportunity to see the appeal, said Tom Kang, a Counterpoint Research Officer.