Foldable smartphones are sparking a renaissance of the iconic flip phone from the 90s, with the market forecast to be worth nearly £50bn in the next four years.
According to Expert Market Research, the foldable smartphone market reached almost $16.5bn (£12.8bn) in 2022 and is expected to soar to $60bn (£46.6bn) by 2028.
Global foldable smartphone shipments are projected to hit 101.5m in 2027, up from 18.6m in 2023, with Samsung and Apple leading the market, according to Counterpoint’s Global Foldable Smartphone Tracker and Forecast.
IDC predict a far lower estimate of 48m units shipped in 2027 with a market value of $42bn (£33bn), although this excludes the assumption of a foldable Apple product.
However, analysts say technology needs to advance and prices must fall before the sector can really take off.
Speaking to City A.M., Ian Whittaker, leading independent media analyst, explained foldables have made a comeback for two reasons.
“One is that they have become fashionable,” he said, referencing a recent Tiktok craze with the flexible smartphone styles.
The second factor is convenience, Whittaker added, with flip phone makes it easier to fit in bags and pockets as phones grow increasingly larger.
“The rationale for foldable phones is clear,” agreed Joseph Teasdale, head of tech at Enders Analysis. “Who wouldn’t want an iPad-quality screen in an iPhone-sized package?”
However, foldable devices currently come with compromises.
“They’re expensive, the screens crease, the hinge is a point of failure, and they have to incorporate multiple displays rather than concentrating on making one display as good as possible at the price,” Teasdale told City A.M..
He estimated it may take around two more years to develop a foldable that doesn’t feel like an expensive prototype.
The market is heating up as Google joined with its £1,749 Pixel Fold in May this year, while Apple is rumoured to introduce a contender in 2025.
Apple’s potential entry into the foldable market next year “will undoubtedly deliver a polished version” but with a high price tag, said Teasdale. At the other end of the spectrum, Android manufacturers like Oppo are expected to drive down entry-level prices.
Oppo’s Find N2 Flip is priced at £849 while Motorola’s cheapest flip phone model sells for £800.
“Once we get a foldable phone that is both high-quality and not too expensive, the category is bound to grow,” Teasdale added.
Samsung is the frontrunner in the foldable market. Last week it launched its 5th generation Galaxy Z Flip and Z Fold models.
Samsung UK & I vice president James Kitto told City A.M. the phone manufacturer was answering a call for higher performance and battery life: “People want more but in a pocketable, portable product.”
However, Paolo Pescatore, independent media analyst at PP Foresight, said: “It will be a challenge for Samsung to articulate the merits of the new Fold when the updates are hardly noticeable to users, that’s why it is increasingly being positioned as a productivity device.”
Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold5 sells for a hefty £1,749, while the cheaper Z Flip5 has a slightly cheaper price tag of £1,049.
The Korean electronics giant is reportedly working on a more affordable option to help it compete with Apple’s mainstream iPhone range. “We are trying to make a leap in our price positioning,” the chief of its mobile business, TM Roh, told Bloomberg News last week.
“Samsung is the undisputed leader in foldables for now,” said Pescatore. However, the nascent market is “fast becoming the next battleground” as rivals seek to lure users with their own foldable devices.
“No doubt Apple is looking and working hard behind the scenes to bring novel devices to market. When it does, it will invigorate this segment and kick start consumer demand for foldables; as we’ve seen time and time again,” Pescatore added.
Apple did not respond to City A.M. regarding its plans for foldables.