Foldable Phones May Succeed Where Tablets Have Failed

A screenshot of the Galaxy Fold website.
Samsung

Foldable devices are the next step in mobile phones, but this may not be the case. Instead, foldable tablets may be the next step for tablets, and they could succeed where tablets have failed.

Let’s face it; Foldable phones are tablets

What is the point of sale of a foldable phone? Does it include plastic screen, brittle design, $ 2,000 price tag or internal screen the size of a tablet?

You already know the answer. Foldables like the Galaxy Fold and the Huawei Mate X are very interesting because of their giant screens. Even with a $ 300 phone, their fragility and flaws would be unacceptable, but people are willing to pay a few cents for a tablet that fits in their pocket.

Our obsession with devices like the Galaxy Fold is very revealing. This shows that, although tablets are technically considered “portable” devices, they are not really enough to allow us to be satisfied with them. After all, people do not care about foldable shell-shaped objects (like the Razr 4). They only care about foldables that are technically tablets.

Collapsible items can succeed when tablets fail

A screenshot of the launch event iPad 2010. Steve Jobs has three categories: a phone, a tablet and a laptop.
Apple / AllAboutSteveJobs

In the original announcement of the 2010 iPad, Steve Jobs made it clear that the iPad was not just a big iPod or a small laptop. But he does not seem too confident about how the iPad should be used. He says it’s “the best way” to scour the New York Times, read books, play games, or answer e-mails. He even (reluctantly) suggests anchoring the iPad on a peripheral keyboard (in vertical orientation) after spending an hour explaining how the tablet is a “third” device, separate from laptops and phones.

In other words, the original presentation for iPad is exactly like every tablet presentation that follows it. Manufacturers do not know how to sell these devices.

Do not mistake yourself; we like tablets. But from a business point of view, how do you incite customers with a smartphone to pay over $ 300 for a mobile device that does not have (always) a mobile connection, does not fit in a pocket, runs under iOS or Android and do not work with the professional software?

A tablet is not a necessity, and tablets can not replace the devices needed for your life. But things can change foldable. Foldable objects, with their large screens and portable form factors, could be more convenient and usable than phones or laptops. They could actually occupy the “third” space that Steve Jobs talked about in 2010 or eliminate the need for multiple devices in the first place.

Laptops can become popular alternatives for laptops

A photo of the Galaxy Fold running multiple applications simultaneously.
Samsung

Companies like Apple, Microsoft and Samsung like to advertise their tablets as alternatives for laptops. The idea is that these thin and powerful tablets are more practical than your laptop and they are full of professional software that can replace a “real” computer.

But let’s be honest, these tablets replacing a laptop are not this much more convenient than your average laptop. Keyboards and crutches can double the size of some tablets and these devices are rarely as reliable and comfortable as they should be. In addition, tablet manufacturers seem to deliberately prevent tablet software from advancing (after ten years, the iPad finally works with a mouse). It may be to prevent their tablets from cannibalizing the sales of laptops.

But people want to replace their laptops with reliable tablets, and the foldable gadget could push them to make the jump. It’s hard to say no to an alternative to a laptop that fits in your pocket, even if it has a weak software or a dull keyboard. It is also possible that these foldable computers are connected to external monitors and used as desktops, which would save you from needing a foldable device (Samsung continues in this direction with its platform DeX mobile desktop, which will be available on the Galaxy Fold).

Gaming Tablet will be fully portable

A couple plays games on a tablet.
Antonio Guillem / Shutterstock

Phone and tablet games dominate the global gaming market, but tablet games are not as popular as they could be. Again, that’s because smartphones are more portable than tablets. Why would you buy or use an iPad as a mobile gaming console when you can play the same games on the iPhone that you always carry with you?

You know where it’s going. Tablets can finally turn tablets into serious portable game consoles. A 12-inch handheld gaming device is much more logical than a small phone or a bulky tablet. It even makes more sense than a console like the Nintendo Switch, which is actually just a tablet with analog sticks.

Of course, manufacturers of folding products will have to market their devices to players. They will need to make sure that foldable computers are powerful enough to play games and that device controllers can be used with foldable devices without adding excess pocket. Otherwise, folding games will not appeal to adult players and will be too expensive for children.

Regular tablets will get cheaper

An iPad surrounded by dollar bills
rzoze19 / Shutterstock

Foldable items are currently in the price range of $ 1,500 to $ 2,000, and that will not change in a few years. But what will happen to regular shelves when foldable products reach the price range below $ 1,000?

Although $ 1000 is not a good price for a tablet, we know from experience that people are willing to pay $ 1,000 for a phone. Once foldable products have reached this price, they will begin to cannibalize traditional sales of phones and tablets, which will put manufacturers in a delicate position. How do you sell regular shelves when everyone has a foldable shelf in their pocket?

Manufacturers will need to make regular tablets cheaper or more powerful than folding shelves. There is no other answer. This change will likely push conventional tablets into ubiquity (for home entertainment) and will likely prompt manufacturers to sell classic tablets as a replacement for a laptop, along with better software, keyboards and kiosks.


Whether you like or hate folding phones, you have to admit that they are an important step for mobile devices. And although they do not cause massive change in the mobile phone market, they are certain to help tablets evolve to become something more portable, more convenient and more necessary.

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