Despite Samsung, OnePlus, Google, and others heavily emphasizing folding smartphones, the hardware remains widely unpopular and make up barely 1% of the entire smartphone market.
While multiple companies are throwing their weight into the folding smartphone space, Samsung is perhaps the biggest player. It pushed into the space very hard in 2023 with refreshes in the Z Fold and Z Flip lines. In both cases, camera performance was low on the list of priorities for the brand as neither device did much to move that needle forward.
OnePlus entered the foldable space with the Open that crucially did not skimp on the cameras but despite this, if new research is to be believed, it did little to make people care about folding phones.
According to a report from the Financial Times, syndicated by Ars Technica, despite being introduced five years ago, folding smartphones make up just barely more than 1% of total smartphone sales globally. That number comes courtesy of Counterpoint Research which estimates that just 16 million folding phones will be sold in 2024, which is 1.3% of the total expected 1.2 billion smartphone market total.
Consumers have been less than excited about folding phones for a number of reasons. Durability is certainly one, but price is another major factor: folding phones are expensive.
Beyond that, consumers may not really be sure what they’re getting for the price. While sure, it does give a larger screen, many popular apps aren’t programmed to take advantage of the increased real estate which results in wasted space on the larger display — running counter to the entire reason to get a folding phone. This lack of utility is one of the major reasons, among the weak camera performance, that PetaPixel‘s Chris Niccolls was lukewarm on the Google Pixel Fold last year.
Despite this, manufacturers are reportedly pinning their hopes on folding phones to help revive a smartphone market that suffered its worst year in more than a decade in 2023. Similar to the situation in the dedicated camera industry, manufacturers may sell fewer devices but they make more money on them per sale, which is one way for them to see profits in the down market.
Foldables may be seen as one of the few ways to innovate on the smartphone space which many believe to have stagnated in recent years. With lack of innovation in the traditional design, manufacturers may feel compelled to do something — anything — to spark renewed interest in the space.
Of note, Apple has remained out of the folding smartphone market altogether, allowing Samsung to own 73% of the space. While it is a small pie, it is dominated by the South Korean company nonetheless.
Image credits: Jeremy Gray for PetaPixel