They were the absolute rage in terms of tech trends in the second half of 2019. And 2020 was supposed to be the year in which many were expecting them to be more widely available. A month or so into the lockdown imposed by the COVID-19 virus, it seems as if the dawn of the foldable display phone era has been thoroughly postponed.
Of course, this has not been confirmed officially and is not likely to be confirmed either for some time. But given the information we have received from our sources and our interactions with different executives in a variety of brands, foldables are no longer the sort of priority they were for phone manufacturers just a few months ago. “Those who have got units in production, or already have stock (like Samsung and Motorola), will try and sell off whatever they have, but will not follow through with new products. In the current conditions, it just does not make sense,” a marketing executive at one of the retail chains told us.
While a number of analysts expect the market to be flooded with new tech gadgets the moment the lockdown is lifted in many places, there is a feeling that given the nature of the aliment, super-premium products might not quite fly off the shelves as they used to. “Phones like the iPhone, the Galaxy Note, and OnePlus will always have a market, but we do not think people will be as eager to spend on a very expensive new concept,” an executive from a leading phone brand said. “If anything, crises like these tend to make people spend money on largely familiar products. The tendency to experiment goes down. Unless there is a quick cure or the virus disappears altogether, we are looking at a period in which people are unlikely to spend heavily on radically new products. In fact, most people might even tend to spend conservatively in general.”
The retail chain executive agrees. “We are hearing that there will be a major economic slowdown and that incomes will go down. Also, people might not go out as much as before. In these cases, most people will not buy items of flaunt value like premium phones. Who will you flaunt it to if you are going to be inside the house most of the time?” he said.
And it is in preparation for this kind of situation that many brands are believed to have firmly placed their foldable products on the back burner. For the moment, at least. Yes, devices that are already in the market like the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip and the Moto RAZR will continue to be available, and their successors might even be released later this year. But radical new developments and efforts in the foldable display sector are unlikely. It is a massive investment, say our sources, thanks to the lack of standard designs and even software, and given the current circumstances, unlikely to pay off for a while. Companies are more likely to play it safe and stick to known and established options, rather than opt for radically new ones, even in the premium segment.
So, has the foldable era folded up (pun intended!)? Far from it. We are reasonably sure it will be back someday in the future. And if the economy does recover dramatically, it might be back sooner than expected. But right now, it seems to have joined the COVID casualty list. It is not fatally ill but has been told to rest and recover.