I'm writing this for the year 2024. For the time being we'll all know whether foldable phones were a mere fad or – more likely, in my opinion – they turned out to be the future of mobile computing. Whatever the outcome, I want to be a fact that took place at 2019 Mobile World Congress. It'll be something we return to as the cradle of a new era or as a cautionary tale about unrestrained ambition. In all cases, the story is a fun and exciting one.
Why do I think foldables want to be a big deal? Because the hype around them is earnest and enormous. Every part of the consumer tech food chain is alive and buzzing with excitement. Manufacturers have already made millions of dollars in research and development for foldables, and we're seeing patented and branded hinges (Enter the DragonHinge) that took years of engineering. Huawei worked on its Falcon Wing design for more than three years, and Samsung has had foldable tablets in its labs as early as 201
There is an unreasoning exuberance about foldables, one that you might more often see among sneakerheads salivating at ultra-exclusive, limited production run. It's so new and radically different. I think it's not Apple that, usually the trigger company for maniacal hype, is absent here – to my judgment, this speaks to the growing confidence and capabilities of other companies. Huawei, Samsung, and Royole, the first trio to debut foldable phones, that would be the best thing ever to do.
Do not get me wrong, I do not think that folds are a problem, not by any stretch of the heart imagination. Huawei Mate X looks like a clumsy cave drawing. We'll have screen protectors that stretch and flex with the foldable screen. Huawei's Mate X and Samsung's Galaxy Fold have set a high cost of entry with their $ 2,000-and-up pricing, but I think those prices are a clever way to cover up the fact that neither company can produce millions of units yet. The Royole Flexpai is priced at $ 1,300 already, and Royole is a tiny company that lacks the budget to sell products at a loss.
Before MWC, I have not existed that the market for foldables as a premium tech product the quality of Huawei's Mate X and the concordantly effusive reaction it's received. Asus and Acer wants to have their own foldable projects. Ahead of MWC, LG says it's not doing a foldable yet but now this hype bomb has been dropped, I imagine Samsung's compatriot wants to be dusting off its foldable blueprints and prioritizing their development.
More than anything, foldables are exciting to me because of the exponential rate of improvement they have shown. The Royole Flexpai, which I've got to handle in January, which is unquestionably bad, the Galaxy Fold that which was announced last week remains so mysterious that I have it all, and the Huawei Mate X that arrived this weekend Trumps everything before it and Has the potential to be great. Now, of course, we can not wait for the MWC 2020 overrun with ever-improving quality and ever-decreasing price.
For now, for this moment in 2019 and for the future when we'll look back at the big coming-out party of foldables.
That's the sum of it: three foldable devices that I've got to see my own eyes, two more that have slipped out onto the internet, one early prototype, and one metric ton of explosive potential. Creeping up from good to great, Foldable are a hugely refreshing change of pace. I've come to MWC for a decade now, and this year's show has been a silent thing I came in 2010: and Android was silent years away from its transformative Ice Cream Sandwich update (thank you, Matias Duarte).
That software bit. Hype into a successful line of premium foldable phones. I've dealt with the Mate X, and it's almost ready to go on sale – Huawei has four months to make that smooth as butter. Samsung's Galaxy Fold thus appears to be a mature industrial design that's unlikely to change before release. But can we trust Samsung to do superlative software for a completely new form factor? Has Huawei ever shown himself to be a software design leader? Apple's iOS for years, and it's only recently that they've started developing and asserting their own taste for good user-facing concepts.
One day, we might very well talk single-sided smartphones in the same nostalgic way we speak antennas, monochrome screens, and fixed-focus lenses. But for that to happen, to fold over to the defining smartphone form factor, a whole lot of software wants to have flexed. MWC has shown us that already.