“Foldable Phones” have emerged as the new epitome of high-end flagship smartphones. However, whether it’s in the form of vertical or horizontal folding, it may no longer meet the needs of some users.
Recently, industry sources cited by TechNews has suggested that Chinese smartphone brand Huawei is planning to launch a triple-fold foldable phone this year. This move is expected to make smartphones unfolded more akin to the size and functionality of tablet computers.
As for the folding form, it might be in a Z-shaped (or S-shaped) manner. The screen size after folding would be similar to that of a regular smartphone, approximately 6.4 inches. It is rumored that Huawei’s Z-fold phone’s panel supplier could be BOE.
However, the design of the triple-fold phone may not be limited to just the Z-fold type; it could also be designed in a G-fold manner.
What is the G-fold type? It means both hinges fold inward. Nonetheless, such a design would necessitate adding a cover screen, which would increase the overall weight and thickness. Additionally, to cover the folded panel, the folding radius of the other side’s hinge must be enlarged.
As for the Z-fold (or S-fold) design, while it allows for the use of the outer folded panel as a cover screen, thus saving weight, the simultaneous presence of both inward and outward folding poses significant challenges to the panel’s layer stacking design and the mechanism’s design.
However, some people may wonder, “Are foldable phones really selling well?” In fact, according to TrendForce’s data, for the shipment numbers last year, the existing shipment volume of foldable phones still falls short of expectations, reaching only 15.7 million units, failing to surpass the 16 million mark.
The sales performance of the leading brand in foldable phones, Samsung Electronics, was also not as good as expected, remaining at around 10.5 million units. The sales situation of other Chinese brands also did not meet expectations.
While foldable phones have indeed become the new symbol of high-end flagship smartphones, the fact is that the design patterns have become quite fixed. For consumers who are always looking for something new, these phones have lost their novelty and breakthrough points.
Therefore, brands have begun to contemplate the future of foldable phones with new designs and are considering abandoning certain design patterns to achieve better profitability.
For instance, OPPO and vivo are expected to abandon upright foldable phone models within this year, opting to retain only the left-right folding models (Fold).
The main reason behind this decision is that the pricing of upright foldable phones is lower, and although there might be a chance of higher shipment volumes compared to the Fold models, the profit margins are not significant.
Now that the demand for foldable phones has started to plateau, it is anticipated that the demand for foldable phones this year will only reach 17.7 million units, a 12.3% year-on-year increase.
In the face of sluggish end-user demand, why are smartphone brands still considering launching new types of foldable phones? This relates to the notion of “technological showcase.” Huawei’s triple-fold phone design takes into account technological capabilities, yield rates, and other factors.
Initially, the scale may not be too large, but the technological demonstration aspect remains potent. Huawei is anticipated to position itself as a technological leader, exerting pressure on other smartphone brands to a certain extent.
However, brands are not only contemplating “folding” smartphone designs. Some brands have also begun considering rollable and pull-up designs, aiming to inject new vitality into the smartphone market.
According to MoneyDJ’s report, Samsung Electronics, the South Korean smartphone giant, unveiled its latest foldable phones, the Galaxy Z Fold5 and Galaxy Z Flip5, in August. With a year until the next generation hits the market, speculation is arising that Samsung plans to incorporate foldable features into mid-range models. This move aims to lower the entry barrier, attract a broader customer base, and strengthen Samsung’s leading position in the foldable phone market.
TrendForce recently reported that Android smartphone brands are actively entering the foldable phone market, aiming to break through the plateau in smartphone market growth with the unique design of foldable phones. However, the widespread adoption of foldable phones faces a significant obstacle in their high pricing.
According to supply chain sources, Samsung is set to launch a mid-range foldable phone in 2024, targeting a relatively budget-friendly price range of $400 to $500 USD.
In August, Samsung launched its latest generation of foldable phones, the Galaxy Z Fold5 and Galaxy Z Flip5, maintaining a premium pricing strategy. The suggested retail prices are $1,799 USD for the Galaxy Z Fold5 and $999 USD for the Galaxy Z Flip5.
The market is eagerly anticipating Samsung’s introduction of a mid-range foldable phone. However, as of now, this remains in the speculative phase, and there’s no information available regarding its design, specifications, or other details.
Previous market rumors suggested that Samsung’s Z series of foldable phones might follow the flagship S series by introducing a “Lite Flagship” FE version. This version is expected to feature hardware downgrades to offer a more budget-friendly price, aiming to attract consumers.
According to a TrendForce’s forecast, as foldable phones gain increased acceptance in the consumer market, the global shipment volume of foldable smartphones is estimated to reach 18.3 million units in 2023. This represents a substantial 43% growth compared to 2022, although it accounts for only 1.6% of the total smartphone market sales. Looking ahead to 2024, the shipment volume is expected to grow by another 38%, reaching 25.2 million units, and the market share is projected to increase to 2.2%.
The global smartphone market has seen a continuous decline for nine consecutive quarters, with only the foldable phone category remaining resilient and maintaining growth. Android smartphone manufacturers seem to view this category as a lifeline, having released a total of 13 new foldable phones in the past three months, setting a record for the number of new foldable phones introduced in half a year.
The intensified release of foldable phone models not only reflects the sense of urgency among smartphone manufacturers but also signifies a shift towards foldable technology in the mobile industry.
Currently, the foldable phone market is not as well-established as the traditional flat-screen market, presenting opportunities and variables. All Android manufacturers aim to leverage foldable phones to enhance their market positioning, achieve high-end differentiation, and engage in distinctive competition with Apple.
In fact, during the third quarter, there were subtle changes in the landscape of the foldable phone market in China according to IJIWEI’s report. Huawei, which once dominated the foldable phone market, has seen its market share decline. OPPO and Honor have managed to surpass Huawei in terms of sales volume in the flip-fold and single-product categories.
Next year, Huawei and Samsung plan to introduce more competitively priced foldable phones, and other Android manufacturers are expected to follow suit, driving accelerated expansion in the foldable phone market.
13 New Foldable Phones Launched in 3 Months
In the latter half of this year, smartphone manufacturers including Honor, OPPO, Xiaomi, Samsung, Huawei and Transsion, have been on a roll, releasing a remarkable 13 new foldable phones within just three months. This surge in foldable phone launches has almost doubled the number of foldable devices introduced in the first half of the year.
Each smartphone manufacturer has focused on different aspects of foldable phones. Honor has been particularly aggressive in the foldable phone market, introducing three new models in just four months, constantly pushing the boundaries of thinness. In July, Honor managed to reduce the thickness of foldable phones to the millimeter era with a body thickness of 9.9mm.
In September, the Honor V Purse, an outward folding phone, had a body thickness of 8.6mm in its folded state and weighed only 214g, once again setting a new record for slim foldable phones in the market. In October, the Honor Magic Vs2 weighed 229g, refreshing the record for slim large-sized inward folding phones.
On the other hand, OPPO and Xiaomi have emphasized the imaging performance of their foldable phones. In addition, Samsung, Huawei, Transsion, OnePlus, and other manufacturers have each introduced innovative models like the Galaxy Z Flip 5/Fold 5, Samsung W24/W24 Flip, OnePlus Open, Huawei Mate X5, and PHANTOM V Flip 5G, incorporating cutting-edge technology into foldable phones and significantly enhancing the foldable phone experience. This surge in foldable phone innovation has become one of the standout features in this year’s smartphone market.
Reasons for the Proliferation of Foldable Phones
Recent intense launches of new foldable phones by smartphone manufacturers reflect their strong sense of urgency in the Android market.
Global smartphone markets have been persistently sluggish, declining for nine consecutive quarters due to factors like inflation, market saturation, and longer upgrade cycles. Traditional flat smartphones are no longer able to drive sustained market growth, and the smartphone market is in need of new growth engines.
Foldable phones, with their differentiated form and innovative experiences, have the potential to stimulate consumer upgrades, and smartphone manufacturers have high hopes for them, leading to the frequent release of new foldable phone models.
Currently, foldable phones are considered high-end products, and the intense launch of new foldable phone models by Android smartphone manufacturers is aimed at achieving brand premiumization and establishing differentiation from Apple.
In an effort to break through the high-end market stronghold that Apple has established, Android smartphone manufacturers, led by Samsung, have not only upgraded their high-end flat smartphones but have also been actively promoting foldable phone innovations, different from the iPhone 15 series. They aim to stimulate consumer upgrades and attract more high-end users who value large-screen experiences.
Price Key to Boosting Foldable Smartphone Penetration
In recent months, Android smartphone manufacturers have been consistently releasing new foldable phone models, driving up foldable phone sales and contributing to increased market penetration in the high-end smartphone segment during the latter half of the year.
Supply chain sources have also revealed that Samsung is planning to bring foldable phones to the mid-range market next year, further reducing price barriers and making foldable phones more accessible to a broader range of consumers.
This year, the lowest price for foldable phones has already dropped to 3,659 yuan (RMB), setting a new record. In the upcoming year, more manufacturers will introduce higher-value foldable phone products, thus accelerating the broader adoption of foldable phones.
TrendForce believes that the driving force behind the foldable market’s expansion is the reduced costs and the expansion strategies of Chinese brands.
Looking at TrendForce’s estimated numbers , by 2023, shipments of foldable smartphones could skyrocket to an impressive 18.3 million units, marking a 43% YoY surge. However, this only captures a slim 1.6% of the year’s total smartphone market. Fast forward to 2024, a 38% growth is anticipated, translating to a hefty 25.2 million units and nudging the market share up to 2.2%.
Looking at the medium to long term, TrendForce believes the expansion of the foldable smartphone market is inevitable. By 2027, shipments could soar to a whopping 70 million units, seizing around 5% of the global smartphone market.
At the same time, foldable phone manufacturers are exploring new product forms and driving advancements in end-user applications. While there are certain limitations in terms of size for dual-foldable screen phones, many companies have already started working on triple-foldable screen products.
Recent reports from industry insiders suggest that Huawei’s development of a triple-foldable screen phone is progressing smoothly and may be ready for launch before March next year. It’s expected that two triple-foldable screen phones will be introduced in 2024.
On the other hand, Apple’s strategy for foldable devices differs from many Android phone manufacturers, as they are more focused on mature products and not in a hurry to release foldable phones.
According to TrendForce’s research, to date, Apple’s foray into foldables has been tepid due to Apple’s unwavering obsession with user experience.
Persistent challenges with foldable tech—think panel evenness and hinge design—might be holding them back. Still, achieving perfection with larger foldable panels is somewhat simpler than their smaller counterparts. The possibility for Apple to leapfrog right into medium-sized foldable products – like laptops or tablets – still remains.
According to IJIWEI’s report, as the return of Huawei intensifies competition in the Chinese market, Chinese smartphone manufacturers such as OPPO and Transsion are venturing into the Southeast Asian market, a move that is expected to pave the way for sales recovery in the coming year.
In September this year, OPPO hosted a global launch event in Singapore for two high-end foldable smartphones, the Find N3 and N3 Flip.
Elvis Zhou, Chief Marketing Officer for OPPO’s overseas division, stated that the smartphone industry is expected to make a recovery in 2024 and 2025, with foldable smartphones playing a crucial role. While shipment volumes may not be as high, foldable smartphones have been growing at a rate of over 100% annually, and their average selling prices far exceed those of regular smartphones, creating significant value. This is why OPPO is fully committed to foldable phones.
Andy Shi, President of OPPO’s Asia-Pacific region, emphasized Singapore’s significance as a pivotal hub with substantial economic and political influence in the Southeast Asian region. He pointed out that a large number of high-end smartphone users who frequently travel for work are key influencers in this area.
The decision to launch OPPO products in Singapore is aimed at leveraging this advantage for further market development. Despite existing macroeconomic uncertainties, Andy Shi expresses optimism, anticipating moderate growth in the Asia-Pacific region for the upcoming year.
Furthermore, Tecno, a subsidiary of Transsion Holdings that has been known for its long-term focus on entry-level smartphone models in Africa, has recently introduced its latest foldable smartphone in Singapore, marking its debut in the Southeast Asian market.
According to TrendForce’s data, Transsion, along with its subsidiaries Tecno, Infinix, and itel, has not only outperformed Vivo but also claimed the fifth position in the global market during Q2. The company’s growth trajectory is expected to sustain its momentum in Q3.
Regarding the development of the folding phone market, TrendForce has also stated in a previous press release that shipments are poised to surge dramatically to 18.3 million units, marking a 43% year-on-year increase by 2023. Nevertheless, this only constitutes a modest 1.6% of the total smartphone market for the year. Looking ahead to 2024, the growth is expected to continue, with a 38% increase, resulting in a substantial 25.2 million units and pushing the market share to 2.2%.
TrendForce’s latest insights reveal that by 2023, shipments of foldable smartphones could skyrocket to an impressive 18.3 million units, marking a 43% YoY surge. However, this only captures a slim 1.6% of the year’s total smartphone market. Fast forward to 2024, and we’re looking at another leap—a 38% growth, translating to a hefty 25.2 million units and nudging the market share up to 2.2% Looking at the medium to long term, TrendForce believes the expansion of the foldable smartphone market is inevitable. By 2027, shipments could soar to a whopping 70 million units, seizing around 5% of the global smartphone market.
The driving force behind the foldable market’s expansion? Reduced costs and the expansion strategies of Chinese brands. TrendForce posits that as the cost of components plummets—especially panel and hinge expenses—the stage is set for foldable phone prices to potentially slide below the US$1,000 threshold. This shift would undeniably spur consumer interest and purchase intent.
Branding paints its own picture. This year, Samsung once again led the pack, with projections pointing toward a robust 12.5 million unit shipment. But there’s a twist. Its stronghold, a staggering 82% market share in 2022, slipped to 68%. Why? It’s because of the surging tidal wave of foldables from Chinese contenders. Huawei clinched the runner-up spot, estimated to have dispatched around 2.5 million foldables for a respectable 14% of the market share. Hot on their heels were OPPO and Xiaomi, with market shares of 5% and 4%, respectively. Other brands have each snagged less than 4%.
Pandemic repercussions echo here too. TrendForce sheds light on the fact that Chinese foldable brands, impacted by recent global events, have mostly kept their eyes on home turf, eschewing aggressive overseas expansion. However, if these brands pivot and ramp up their global sales game, they might just turbocharge the foldable market’s growth trajectory.
And then, there’s Apple—the enigmatic juggernaut. To date, Apple’s foray into foldables has been tepid, to say the least. This restraint has undoubtedly doused consumer fervor for foldable. Yet, true to form, Apple’s unwavering obsession with user experience could be the culprit. Persistent challenges with foldable tech—think panel evenness and hinge design—might be holding them back. But here’s the kicker: Achieving perfection with larger foldable panels is somewhat simpler than their smaller counterparts. Could this mean Apple might leapfrog right into medium-sized foldable products—like laptops or tablets? Only time will tell.
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