Foldable Phones are really, finally, happening this year. But almost nobody should buy one until their many problems are solved.
Earlier this week, Samsung expanded its own presentation of the Galaxy S10 (all four) with another big announcement: its Galaxy Fold folding phone. The luxury device of almost $ 2,000, which transforms from a phone into a tablet when it is deployed, is being promoted as a sign of the future of the mobile.
But now that we are a few days away from the eye-catching Galaxy Fold revelation and just a few days away from the Mobile World Congress, where a handful of other Chinese phone makers will show their own folding phones, I can not help but see red flags everywhere.
In 2017, I made a prediction that collapsible phones had no chance of success. At that time, I based my skepticism on prototypes of folding screens and on the many dual-screen and collapsible phones that failed to capture.
In summary, the technology to make practical folding phones is not ready yet. And now, even without seeing Galaxy Fold in person, I’m more confident than ever that folding phones will be a fad.
The fact that Samsung did not feel safe enough to allow journalists to try Galaxy Fold on their own, especially when the device launches in two months, is somewhat alarming.
The fact is that collapsible phones are great to see and about which it is exciting to write, surely it is better to write about another Samsung imitation well done that costs hundreds of less, but there are clear engineering challenges that have yet to be overcome for can fold phones to really announce a new era of mobile phones. Solutions that not even Samsung has discovered yet.
In order for the collapsible phones to become mainstream, it is necessary to solve all of the following.
1. The Crease
There is no way to avoid folding when you fold a screen in half. From afar, the crease that extends through the middle of the screen completely open in the Galaxy Fold is barely visible. But up close, that’s how you’ll use it, you’ll definitely see it. And once you do, you can not stop seeing it.
— Karissa Bell (@karissabe) February 20, 2019
Every folding screen that I have seen has a fold. There is no way to avoid it, and I do not foresee that any company will solve this problem soon. Just as there is a visible crease when you fold a piece of paper in half, the crease in the phone’s folding screens will be a constant reminder that you are basically using a prototype.
2. The Durability
With the fold comes the question of durability. Samsung was super happy with the Galaxy Fold hinge. Do not get me wrong, it looks like the most beautiful hinge on a folding screen so far (unlike the horrible wrinkled curve of the Royole FlexPai), but how many displays can it support? How durable is a screen that you will fold and unfold hundreds of times a day?
It’s bad enough to have a single dead pixel on the screen of a $ 1,000 phone. What happens if the pixels along the fold begin to die? Can any phone manufacturer guarantee that the pixels along the fold of a screen are valid for years to come?
How about using a case? How does a case work on a folding phone?
3. The software
Man, oh, man is the software for folding phones that is not ready. Sure, Google has already launched its full support for Android in folding devices, but that does not mean squatting. If the spectacular failure of Android tablets has taught us something, is that the support of external developers is extremely crucial to the success of a form factor.
Getting developers to optimize their applications for the specific aspect ratio of a collapsible phone will be a difficult challenge. Is it hard enough for application developers to design their applications for a million different screen sizes and aspect ratios on Android, and now phone manufacturers want them to do it again? Good luck with that.
At least with normal phones, there are already established screen aspect ratios that everyone agrees with. Folding devices, not so much. Take the Galaxy Fold: it has an external screen with an aspect ratio of 21: 9 and an internal screen displayed with an aspect ratio of 4.2: 3. None of these is commonplace, and that’s just for Samsung phones .
Who even knows what aspect ratio the Xiaomi folding phone (above) has with two folds or the Huawei device that has not yet been seen.
How many developers will actually update their applications for tablets? I mean, it’s been almost nine years, and Instagram still does not have a tablet app for iPad or Android. What makes device makers think that developers will soon re-create applications for tablets?
4. The Duration of the Battery
The phones started to have batteries big enough to last almost two days and now you want to take a step back because you want a slightly bigger and wrinkled screen. Thanks but no thanks.
I’m curious to see how long the Galaxy Fold’s 4,380 mAh battery will last when using the expanded inner screen. A 4,380 mAh battery may look a lot like a normal phone, but for a 7.3-inch screen, it sounds weak; Samsung’s new Galaxy Tab S5e has a 10.5-inch screen and needs a 7.040 mAh battery. To put that in an even greater perspective, Samsung’s next Galaxy S10 5G has a 4,500 mAh battery and a 6.7-inch screen.
What I am saying is: the battery life will be a problem with these first folding phones. The constant unfolding and folding of a screen will only consume the battery faster.
Or, the battery life is shorter with smaller cells or the phone manufacturers charge larger batteries and make the folding phone even thicker. Ugh
5. The Thickness
Samsung has not revealed the dimensions for the Galaxy Fold, but it is not necessary to be a space scientist to see if it is large when folded. You can easily get an idea of how thick the fold is by looking at the USB-C port and then doubling it.
A thick phone is acceptable if it means having a massive 16,000 mAh battery that will last up to five days on a single charge. But otherwise, why would someone choose to put a brick in their pants? Folding phones must be much thinner before they are worth having.
6. The Price
The Samsung Galaxy Fold will cost $ 1,980 when it goes on sale on April 26.
That. Is a. Insane. Quantity. Of money.
And if Samsung thinks they can charge almost $ 2,000 for a folding phone, you can bet that your lunch money, Huawei and Oppo and Xiaomi, will not be shy and will do the same. While Chinese phone makers are known to undercut Samsung and Apple in pricing, they have not refused to sell their own phones at exorbitant prices on the pretext of offering a luxury experience.
Samsung’s expectations with the Galaxy Fold call it a luxury device designed for the first users, but if this or any other device manufacturer wants folding phones to be the next big thing on mobile devices, prices should go down. As I walk down. Folding phones have no chance if few people can afford them.
Advances in the MWC 2019?
The fact that Samsung has not figured out how to overcome these challenges does not mean that another company has not done so.
At the Mobile World Congress, we will finally see how other companies will tackle folding phones. Will they succeed where Samsung does not have?
I would love for a company to show me that I am wrong and show me a folding phone that has all these problems covered. But that seems unlikely to happen at the MWC this year. We’ll probably see a lot of prototypes that turn their heads, but that’s probably it.