Why Folding Phones Aren't Mainstream Yet

They'll need new tech advances to really draw attention

Key Takeaways

  • Samsung recently shared it wants to make foldable smartphones like its Z Fold and Z Flip series more mainstream.
  • Part of its plans to make foldable phones more appealing includes the release of more accessible devices.
  • Experts say foldable phones could appeal to consumers, but they most likely won’t until new technology brings them closer to the standard smartphones we’re used to.
person holding the Samsung Galaxy Fold

Mika Baumeister / Unsplash

Samsung has made a vow to make foldable smartphones more mainstream, and experts say new tech that makes them thinner and more durable could be the key.

In the company’s July 29 earnings call, Samsung revealed it wants to lean hard into the future of foldable smartphones like the ZFold and ZFlip, eventually making foldable phones more mainstream. While Samsung plans to release four new foldable models, and others also are getting in on the folding action, experts say going mainstream will require such smartphones to overcome hurdles that might not be possible without new tech advances.

"I actually do believe they will become mainstream," Adam Shine, vice president of electronics recycler and reseller Sunnking, told Lifewire in an email. "The first version of any radical design tends to take time before it's perfect. I feel pretty strongly that once nano-technology is further advanced you will see phones that are slightly thicker than a piece of paper, and that is when this technology will really get interesting."

Dancing on the Cutting Edge

The idea behind nanotechnology is to create on the same level as atoms and molecules. The basic concept originally was introduced by physicist Richard Feynman in 1959, and only has grown in followers over the years. Everything we interact with on a daily basis is made up of molecules and atoms, and being able to more directly control those pieces on a molecular level could unlock new advances in technology that just weren’t possible otherwise.

Micro Computer Chip On Tip Of Finger Against Black Background Extreme Close-up View

MirageC / Getty Images

This is where Shine sees the future of foldable smartphones starting to gain more traction, especially as Samsung and other companies start to address concerns about the phones’ size and durability.

"My main concern is durability," Shine explained. "I’m worried that there will be creases in the screen, ultimately affecting the usability. Another reason I believe that these haven’t been fully embraced yet is the size of the device."

The first version of any radical design tends to take time before it's perfect.

When closed, foldable smartphones can often become much thicker than other mainstream phones on the market. This makes them harder to store in pockets and bags, and also adds more weight to the equation. As smartphones continue to become drivers for many of our daily activities, it makes sense for users to move away from devices that might be heavier or thicker.

"Once they perfect the technology and reduce the inner workings, I believe adoption of this technology will skyrocket," Shine noted.

Filling a Niche

While we await advances in nanotechnology and other fields to help push down the thickness of folding phones, Shine says he believes consumers will start to find foldable devices more appealing because they can fill multiple needs.

"I think consumers would love the idea of having a phone, tablet, and laptop all in one device," he said in our conversation. 

The key to making that kind of device stand alongside others like the iPhone and main Android smartphones, though, is making them thinner and lighter. The lighter and easier they are to carry, Shine says, the more appealing those devices could become to consumers. 

People using tablets to replace computers isn’t new, and we’ve already seen many companies pushing to make their non-computer devices feel and act more like a computer, thanks to advances in both hardware and software technology.

As we continue that trend, Shine says it’s fully possible we could one day see foldable smartphones and other devices replacing laptops and computers. Instead, consumers could rely on one device to meet all their needs by simply connecting various peripherals. This, he cautions, is still many years away, but it's an exciting notion that the smartphones we carry in our pockets could one day outclass and replace the desktops and laptops we've often relied on.

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