CES 2019 has proven that once an idea gets lodged in the tech world’s collective consciousness, it’s going to happen. This year that means folding phones.
At CES 2019, TCL, maker of Alcatel and Blackberry Mobile phones, announced their intent to enter the fold (pun extremely intended.) TCL promises a foldable device by 2020, though they’re fuzzy on what exactly that will be.
They follow Royole’s FlexPai, a prototype-looking folding phone with a dubious value proposition and an eye-popping $1,300 price tag.
Samsung, LG, and Huawei also appear poised to follow. Samsung has already offered a glimpse at its rumoured foldable phone with its One UI system.
Innovation for Innovation’s Sake?
While a foldable or rollable screen makes a ton of sense for certain applications (like LG’s amazing new rollable TV), I’m skeptical that a foldable smartphone will offers tangible value to the end user. In fact, don’t be surprised if it’s the subject of mockery in the future.
Any phone with a critical weak point is problematic: flip phones, slider phones, etc. Especially when a device is supposed to ride around in your bag all day.
There are also concerns about width and weight. No one wants to lug a fat, clunky, electronic sandwich around. But if you make it too thin, durability takes a hit.
Technical hurdles notwithstanding, most of the big players are keen to see this idea through to fruition. Call it innovation for innovation’s sake, or a way to stand out from your rivals. Folding is the new bevel-less.
Admittedly, tablet functionality in a pint-sized package is very appealing. Phones now regularly exceed 6 inches and our pockets can only take so much punishment.
That said, with screen creasing, durability questions, and a UI quagmire for developers, long term outlook for folding phones doesn’t exactly seem bullish.