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China foldables on rise, seek more global sales

By Ma Si | China Daily | Updated: 2023-01-03 09:36

Zhao Ming, CEO of Honor, unveils the company's foldable smartphone Magic Vs in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, in November. CHINA DAILY

Samsung still leads segment, niche market awaiting Apple's possible entry

Foldable smartphones are becoming a bright light in an otherwise cloudy smartphone market, and shipments of the handsets are expected to see continuous growth in the years to come, as more affordable models are rolled out to attract consumers, and foldable display technologies continue to mature, company executives and experts said.

The comments came as foldable smartphones are expected to see strong growth, with estimated annual shipments hitting 26 million units in 2023, according to market research company Counterpoint. The forecast is an extension of the robust trend seen in 2022, when the global foldable smartphone market was estimated to have grown 73 percent to 16 million units, from 9 million units in 2021.

Jene Park, a senior analyst at Counterpoint, said the segment's strong growth defies current economic headwinds as the premium market shows resilience and steady demand.

On the significance of the foldables segment across the broader market, Park said: "Foldables bring not only fresh design to smartphones, but also more screen real estate. This is growing in importance with smartphone use expanding, especially across media, entertainment and work. Framing the growth in foldables, we see the premium market showing strong growth despite macro headwinds, with ultra-premium leading the segment."

Another market research company International Data Corp expects foldable phone shipments to reach 41.5 million units in 2026, with a compound annual growth rate of 38.7 percent from 2021 to 2026.

The significant growth of the foldable market has been led by Samsung with its Flip and Fold lineup, IDC said, adding that it expects the updated models will outperform their predecessors and grab more consumer attention in the category.

The commercial segment of the market remains ripe for utilizing foldables as two-in-one devices that can replace both a phone and a tablet, IDC said, while highlighting that although it still believes this use case remains a low priority, falling prices and new business use cases make the idea more appealing moving forward.

Anthony Scarsella, research manager with IDC's worldwide quarterly mobile phone tracker, said the launch of the Galaxy Z Flip4 and Fold4 in the second half of 2022 once again shined a spotlight on the entire category as Samsung continues to be the gold standard for foldable devices in the market.

"The launches from Samsung have brought incremental but critical improvements over their predecessors. The success of these devices should be a strong indicator of how foldables will evolve and capture consumers moving forward," Scarsella said.

Samsung said in November that the number of Galaxy Z Fold and Galaxy Z Flip smartphones sold for enterprise use had more than doubled year-on-year. From January to October last year, the number of foldable smartphones Samsung contracted to enterprise customers increased by 105 percent compared with the same period in 2021.

The ease of multitasking on a larger screen and the powerful app optimizations for foldable devices are helping drive adoption among enterprise users, Samsung said.

Galaxy Z Fold4's expansive screen offers a larger working area, well suited to make the most of features from desktop computers. The tool for juggling multiple tasks, pairs of apps and a PC-like taskbar, enables users to manage, launch and switch between apps, all without interrupting work, Samsung said.

Chinese smartphone brands Oppo, Vivo, Huawei and Honor are stepping up their push to tap into the market. Since the end of 2021, Chinese phone companies have launched a series of foldable devices, which are key for them to expand their presence in the high-end phone segment.

Oppo, for instance, unveiled its latest flagship foldable smartphone Find N2 series in mid-December, as its latest push to tap into the burgeoning foldables segment.

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