In the early years of this century, when mobile phones still came with a physical keypad, the new, must-have design was a foldable flip-open phone, first unveiled by Motorola and then available from other leading makers like Nokia.
A tiny display on the cover could display time and date. Flip the phone open and you find a larger display on the upper portion and the keyboard in the lower section.
Now suddenly foldable phones are all the rage — but among the costliest handsets in the market — with many models with an asking price in the range of Rs 1 lakh to Rs 1.8 lakh. So, what has changed?
For starters, the definition of a foldable phone. The new smartphones come in two variants: flip phone and folding phone: The H-fold or flip phone functions much like the early keyboard-sporting phones — that is, you flip it open vertically.
The V-Fold or folding phone opens like a book to reveal a flexible display that extends across both ‘pages’ of the book. It also offers a smaller display on the ‘cover’.
Samsung first launched the folding phone in 2019, leveraging the availability of flexible OLED or organic light emitting diode displays.
There were many complaints of displays cracking after a few fold-unfold operations — but the company has tried to solve the problem and has stuck with its basic design across almost annual launches.
On 26 July, at an event in Seoul, Korea, the company simultaneously launched its fifth iteration — Galaxy Z Fold 5 — as well as a flip version — Galaxy Z Flip 5.
When unfolded, the 6.2 inch diagonal screen becomes 7.2 inches almost doubling the display area which is great for people who want to watch movies in a larger format or want to multitask, opening a spreadsheet in one corner while browsing in the other.
The Fold 5 with a basic 12 GB of RAM and 256 GB of storage memory will set you back Rs 1.55 lakh, while a high-end 12GB/1 TB or 1000 GB combo is priced around Rs 1.85 lakh.
Clearly, this is not a phone meant for the average user — and it is being marketed as a premium product for those who want to flaunt a visible differentiation.
Samsung’s Flip format, Galaxy Z Flip 5 obviously does not have the advantage of a larger usable display, but on the plus side, you can operate the camera even when the phone is shut. The Galaxy Z Flip phone 5 starts at Rs 99,999, with a 3.4 inch external display and goes up to Rs 109,999 with bigger storage.
Samsung is not alone in offering folding phones in India.
The Oppo Find N2 Flip was launched globally in May and is its first clamshell foldable device. The company claims this is the first device to offer the latest Google Android 14 Beta 1 updated operating system.
It is available in India for Rs 89,999 for the 8GB/256 GB version and offers a large 3.26 inch outside display.
The hinge has proved the Achilles Heel of many folding phones and Oppo says it has used aircraft grade steel plus polymer that ensures 4 lakh trouble-free folds.
Also available in India is the Tecno Phantom V Fold phone with one of the largest displays — 7.85 inches for Rs 88,888, with 8GB RAM and 256 GB storage.
Motorola retained its name Razr for their latest flip phone, an echo of the early 2000s. The Motorola Razr 40 Ultra has a main display when unfolded of 6.9 inches and an outside display of 3.6 inches.
The 8GB/256 GB version costs Rs 89,999, but a more affordable Razr 40 is available for Rs 59,999, with the same RAM/storage combo but reduced camera specs, making this one of the more affordable flip phones today.
More Folding Phones Coming
Beyond these four brands that currently offer new generation foldable smartphones, at least another five have been announced and should be available by year-end, some with even larger displays.
Prices stated are estimates at the 91Mobiles web portal. They include the Huawei Mate X3 with a 7.85 screen (Rs 156,499); The Vivo X Fold 2 with an 8.03 inch screen (Rs 107,490); the OnePlusV Fold with a 7.8 inch screen (Rs 98,290), the Honor Magic V2 with 7.9 inch screen (Rs 103,000) which was launched in China on 12 July and the Google Pixel with a 7.6 inch screen (Rs 147,490).
Will Apple Join The Foldable Camp?
The million-dollar question everyone is asking: Will Apple launch a foldable iPhone? If so, when?
Market watchers like Counterpoint Research predict that Apple will debut its folding phone in 2025.
But in an article last week, “Are Flip Phones back in Style” in USA Today, a tech columnist suggests: “No, Apple isn’t joining the fray. The country’s (ie USA’s) largest smartphone maker hasn’t shown much interest in foldables. So, it could be years – if ever – before it crashes Samsung’s party.”
Not everyone agrees. Many look at Apple’s record of waiting till others launch new technologies (and make costly, early mistakes) before it steps in with a compelling improvement.
The first folding phone gave Samsung many teething troubles with the flexible display. The hinge of any folding device has emerged as a mechanical challenge, especially if you want the two halves to lie flat.
The betting still is that even while the current generation of foldable phones evolve, Apple is cooking up a wow feature that will retain the loyalty of its core iPhone users.
Meanwhile, in markets like India, a fold or flip smartphone, its compelling features notwithstanding, remains within the reach of just a tiny minority of buyers.
According to the India-based technology analyst Faisal Kawoosa of TechArc, fold and flip phones together will contribute to 1.8 per cent of smart phone revenues in 2023. Some 6.35 lakh of these phones will be sold and will account for just 0.5 per cent of volumes sold.
However, he suggests that foldable phones will sell a million in 2025 and 2 million in 2028.
Interestingly, Kawoosa defines an ‘affordable’ foldable phone as something selling for less than Rs 80,000. Affordable and Rs 80,000 seem to be a contradiction in terms, in a country when millions still make do with a feature phone without a touch display because they can’t afford more than Rs 2,000-Rs 3,000 for a handset and where a 5G smartphone for around Rs 10,000 still challenges domestic makers.
So, in the foreseeable future, get ready to see the rich and the restless, the bold and the beautiful in India, flaunt their foldable phones while the rest of us remain content, unfolded and unflipped.
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