Foldable phones: fly or die? Who even knows at this point.


Foldables: the next technology trend?

If you followed any technology news so far this year, it certainly seems like foldable phones are the next big thing. Over the last month the world's biggest phone manufacturers have dropped various takes on what a foldable phone could look like—and they'll even sell them to you sooner than expected.

Samsung debuted the Galaxy Fold and Xiaomi showed off the Mate X. Both devices are going on sale this year, and both for outrageous prices: $1,899 and $2,600 respectively. If the iPhone was pushing the pricing envelope, we've reached a whole new galaxy of pricing at this point.

These phones are nothing more than glorified technology demos, which apparently are going on sale simply to prove that they aren't. Phone makers are rushing to get them out the door and show the world they aren't just concepts, but will they be any good? What use case do they actually solve?

That's what's got me stumped: Samsung and Xiaomi failed to come up with a single compelling use case for these foldables, other than that they're bigger and a bunch of buzzwords like unfold the future. Today, the technology is bulky and clearly unfinished, but it's designed to sell on wow alone.

The story may change over time, but I'm convinced this is interesting technology applied to the wrong use cases. The challenges of smartphones—size, weight, battery and so on—don't lend themselves well to folding. Laptops, tablets, and other larger devices, however, seem more interesting: a Surface that folds into a tiny tablet? That makes more sense than the detachable version on sale today.

And the laptop makers are working on this. Microsoft's 'Andromeda' project involves foldables. Apple's filing patents for laptop foldables. As is Samsung, and a whole array of manufacturers out there as well. 

Foldables make more sense in the context of eliminating an awkward middle category. They're squarely aimed at removing the need to buy a tablet, even in the phone category, which is why a laptop that folds into a tablet would be so interesting (and perhaps a category redefining form factor).

What seems clear to me from the past month is the mental gymnastics required to sell foldable phones are ludicrous. Technology publications are loudly saying they're the future, doing the marketing for these companies because futuristic drives clicks, but still failing to find a use case.

Sure, they look cool, and that's what manufacturers are going for: wow the consumer with smoke and mirrors, and worry about the details later. 

One thing is clear: buying this generation of foldable phones is a bad idea. It's one thing to bet on a first-generation iPhone, but this is a public beta test of hardware that you're paying for. Until the kinks are straightened out, it's worth sitting this one out for now.

📞 Foldables: right tech, wrong place

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