Foldable mobiles had a rough takeoff. In 2019, when all eyes were on Samsung and the new Galaxy Z Fold, the tech giant had to delay the launch of its first flexible phone. Your worst nightmares came true: some screens failed after just a few days of use. After reinforcing the panel and launching an improved version, many other foldables from brands such as Huawei, Motorola, Oppo or Xiaomi reached the market. Despite their fragility, their compatibility problems with certain applications or their high price, these phones seem to be here to stay.
Foldables will be the fastest growing segment of the premium mobile market over the next decade, according to consulting firm Strategy Analytics. These devices allow the user to enjoy multimedia content or use several applications at the same time on large screens, but without losing the portability of a traditional phone. Manufacturers experiment with different formats and sizes. While some like the Huawei Mate X2 open like a book, others like the Huawei Mate XS have a single screen that folds out. There are also phones with a clamshell opening like the Huawei P50 Pocket that, when folded, fit in a pocket.
More than two years after the hasty launch of Samsung, the technologies of these terminals have reached a certain degree of maturity. Carlos Cetina, doctor in computer engineering and director of the master’s degree in advanced software technologies for mobile devices at San Jorge University, considers that the folding screen “has found its balance.” “The hinge movement has been perfected, opening smoothly, yet strong to support the screen at any angle,” he says. Its hardness has also been optimized to mitigate scratches.
Behind these types of phones, there are large investments. For example, the Oppo Find N is the result of four years of work and six generations of prototypes. These terminals are becoming more resistant and support millions of folds. The hinge on Oppo and Samsung foldables can supposedly withstand more than 200,000 closures; or, what is the same, more than 100 closures a day for five years.
But there are still some aspects to improve. In most of the folding phones on the market – for example, in the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 or the Z Flip 3 – a small indentation can be seen in the middle of this screen with the naked eye or when you slide your finger over it. Despite the fact that it is something merely aesthetic that does not affect its operation, manufacturers make an effort to erase this line from the screen. And some are close to achieving it. The fold of the Oppo Find N, for example, is practically imperceptible. In this way, it is also prevented that dust or other particles can sneak between the screen when the mobile is folded and can damage it.
Some foldables are a bit bulky at first, especially when folded. Antoni Martínez Ballesté, computer science professor at the Rovira i Virgili University and consultant at the Open University of Catalonia (UOC), stresses that they are heavier devices than conventional mobiles. Some exceed 270 grams. “For the same weight and less money you have high-end tablets with very good features,” he says. Various manufacturers try to reduce the size and thickness of these terminals. Fabio Arena, director of marketing of product of Xiaomi Spain, indicates that “this is key to convince the consumer that in reality they are going to carry something comfortable with them, and that they do not see it as a cumbersome device because then they lose the sense of innovation”.
Even so, the main handicap of these mobiles, according to Cetina, is not related to design: “Every day, users of folding smartphones experience errors in the most common applications.” The expert assures that, in theory, these errors range from basic features that do not work (such as publishing stories from the apps of Youtube) to unexpected closures, when moving a apps between screens, or interfaces that cannot take advantage of the large size of the screen, such as the black frames that surround the Instagram app.
Brands rely on operating system manufacturers and app developers to get the most out of new foldable screens. “Despite the fact that these manufacturers can be authentic titans of technology, the key to success is mainly in the hands of Google with its Android operating system or Apple with iOS”, explains the doctor.
The folding race
More and more brands are betting on this type of phone: “They have to be ready. No manufacturer wants a version developed specifically for foldable smartphones to appear and not have the devices or the necessary experience to be competitive in the market”, says Cetina. Sometimes, news can become a necessity, according to Sergio Muñoz, vice president of sales for OPPO Spain. The expert considers that this is precisely what happens with mobile phones that bend, which “are gaining more and more ground.”
One of the main goals of the tech giants is to make these phones more affordable to reach a larger potential market. Since these mobiles burst onto the market, their prices have been prohibitive for many users. Although they have overcome the barrier of 2,000 euros, there are currently some folding ones that can be bought for half the money. People who bet on this type of device today have a high purchasing power, according to Miguel Ángel Gómez, director of product marketing at Huawei CBG.
In general, it is early adopters or pioneers looking for the latest in technology and exceptional design. “The prices of these devices are not yet at their most accessible point for a young audience, who are usually the most aware of the latest news. techies, of technology,” says Arena. The manufacturers consulted insist that the folding ones are becoming more widely accepted by the general public. The IDC consultancy indicates that the gradual decrease in prices as more models hit the market will be a key growth factor in the folding market.
But can these devices really succeed beyond those who are passionate about technological innovations? Although we will still have to wait to verify it, several firms predict that the sales of these mobiles will grow in the coming years. The consultancy Strategy Analytics expects that in 2025 more than 100 million terminals will be sold. “Undoubtedly, the mass of consumers are willing to put their fingers on larger screens, be they foldable, rolled up, transparent or in ways that we have not yet imagined,” concludes Cetina.
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