Chinese companies are launching foldable smartphones as rumors of Apple spread

  • A slew of foldable devices have hit the international market this year, with the mostly Chinese electronics giants looking to catch up to Samsung in the smartphone category it pioneered.
  • Analysts wondered how big the foldable category could actually get, given the hardware’s high price and lack of obvious uses right now.
  • Last month, Chinese vendors Honor and Oppo launched their foldable smartphones.

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

Arjun Kharpal | CNBC

It looks like a foldable generic – a term used to describe a smartphone with a bendable screen.

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

Analysts wondered how big the foldable category could actually get, given the hardware’s high price and lack of obvious uses right now.

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

“We’re just at the beginning of the folding story journey, and that’s a far cry from the adult category.”

Samsung launched its first foldable phone in 2019 and really created this category of smartphone. These devices have a single screen that can bend, giving users a much larger screen surface in a device they can carry around in their pockets.

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 out like a book, while the Galaxy Z Flip opens like a traditional foldable phone.

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Samsung accounted for 80% of global foldable shipments in 2022, according to Canalys. The market expects foldable phone shipments to jump 111% year-on-year to 30 million in 2023.

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

This growth potential is what other companies are after, as they try to catch up to Samsung.

Last month, Chinese vendor launched the Oppo Find N2 Flip, and Honor, Huawei’s separate brand, released 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 is Motorola.

It comes as speculations mount that Apple may be preparing to launch a foldable device, although it could be an iPad rather than a smartphone.

Honor CEO George Zhao told CNBC in an interview last week that there are still a lot of challenges with foldable devices, particularly with regards to battery life and the weight and high cost of the devices. Honor’s Magic Vs cost more than $1,600.

But the drive from electronics players to launch foldable devices comes from these brands’ desire to carve their way into the premium end of the smartphone market, which is heavily dominated by Samsung and Apple.

Canalys data shows that high-end smartphones — those costing more than $800 — made up 18% of the total phone market in 2022, up from 11% in 2020.

“Since I see foldable devices, it’s more related to them [an] Trying to improve the brand image by showcasing innovation rather than selling bulk,” Runar Pirovdi, an analyst at Canalys, told CNBC via email.

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The “wow factor” may have died down for consumers now that Samsung has had foldable smartphones on the market for a few years, according to Bjørhovde, who said that eventually, a lower price point will be needed for competitors to compete with South Korea. electronics giant.

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

He added that revolutionizing folds would be near impossible, and moving on.

“The developments will be more about incremental evolution and lower price points. Particularly lower price points will be key for vendors to challenge Samsung’s dominance,” said Bjørhovde.

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