The first foldable smartphones are expected to launch this year, according to the Korea Herald. Yes, these are the sorts of devices once reserved for science fiction. No, they’re not simple clamshell devices like the Kyocera Echo, but reportedly bona fide folding smartphones with bendable displays.
The Korea Herald said this week that Samsung plans to launch about 100,000 devices during the third quarter of this year, while LG also plans to deploy a similar amount in the fourth quarter. That’s not many phones, suggesting a sort of soft launch to test the technology’s performance in the market.
There are still some roadblocks, however, and sources speaking to The Korea Herald suggest that Samsung’s new management might delay the launch of foldable smartphones if they run into “marketability and profitability issues.” Samsung’s probably right to be cautious, even a small dud could have damning consequences following the Galaxy Note 7 disaster.
A foldable iPhone?
LG is reportedly taking a different approach and may instead license or sell its technology to other smartphone companies. The Korea Herald specifically named Huawei and Apple as potential partners. I can’t see the Apple getting too involved in the market this year. There’s no current indication that Apple has any foldable devices in the 2017 pipeline. Lenovo wasn’t named in the report, but it revealed a working prototype of a foldable smartphone last summer.
Most rumors suggest the iPhone 8 will ship in three variations, with the high-end option finally adopting AMOLED years after competitors have been using the display technology. Apple’s iPad pipeline allegedly includes a new 10.5-inch or 10-inch iPad in addition to refreshes to its 9.7-inch and 12.9-inch iPads. My guess is the Cupertino-based firm will take a slower approach to the foldable device market, letting others test the waters first.
If we do see foldable smartphones from any phone this year, I bet it’s more on the type of level as we saw with the first curved displays, in line with products like the Samsung Galaxy Round. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get excited, just don’t expect to see foldable smartphones everywhere this year.