Why Samsung leads the foldable smartphone pack

South Korean technology company controls 88% of the high-end foldable device market

Users can split the main screen of Samsung's Galaxy Z Fold2 horizontally or vertically to access up to three apps at the same time. Courtesy Samsung
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Foldable smartphone shipments will surge nearly three times on an annual basis to about 9 million units this year, with Samsung holding 88 per cent of the market share of the high-end devices, according to Counterpoint Research.

The South Korean technology company is expected to release two new foldable devices at its Galaxy Unpacked event on August 11.

The new foldable models – rumoured to be named the Galaxy Z Fold3 and the Galaxy Z Flip3 – are expected to be major improvements compared with their predecessors.

They will also include the S Pen stylus, a signature feature of the company’s premium Note series, to attract professional users, according to industry experts.

“With a significant price drop, improved design and appearance, Samsung is likely to target younger customers with the new foldable Flip smartphone … the new models will get S Pen support, too, which can help absorb existing Note users,” said Jene Park, Counterpoint’s senior analyst who leads the foldable device research team.

An attendee holds a Samsung Electronics Co. Galaxy Fold mobile device during an unveiling event in New York, U.S., on Monday, April 15, 2019. Samsung announced the phone in February and it goes on sale April 26 at the wallet-stretching price of $1,980. Photographer: Jeenah Moon/Bloomberg

Here is a look at Samsung’s existing foldable models, existing competition and the future outlook of the industry.

Galaxy Fold

Samsung spent about eight years developing the first foldable smartphone, the Galaxy Fold, which was released globally in September 2019 after several months of delays. It had to delay its global release on April 26 after initial reviewers reported display problems and cracked screens.

The Galaxy Fold comes with a 18.5-centimetre screen that folds into a compact device with a cover display. With six cameras, it was unveiled at a price of $1,980.

The device was an instant hit among premium buyers and Samsung managed to sell about 500,000 Fold phones within the first four months of launch, the company said.

Samsung Electronics Co. Galaxy Z Flip smartphones are displayed during the Samsung Unpacked product launch event in San Francisco, California, U.S. on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020. Samsung is starting a new decade with a new chief in charge of its mobile business, but it's doing it in the same old fashion: by leaning into its semiconductor advantage to overwhelm consumers with unmatched specs on its latest Galaxy devices. Photographer: Michael Short/Bloomberg

Galaxy Z Flip

The world’s biggest smartphone manufacturer released its second foldable phone – the Galaxy Z Flip – in February last year.

Devised for ultimate portability, it bends into the size of a wallet. It is a compact palm-sized device when folded but its screen size nearly doubles to 17cm when opened. It was launched at a price of more than $1,400.

Galaxy Z Fold2

Samsung unveiled its third foldable phone, the Galaxy Z Fold2, at an online event in September.

With a bigger screen, stronger hinge, better engineering and improved battery and sensors, the bendable device is intended to “push the boundaries of mobile experiences”, the company said.

Launched at a price of $1,999. the Galaxy Z Fold2 has a 15.7cm display that extends to 19.3cm when unfolded – which is bigger than many standard tablets in the market.

Samsung's Galaxy Z Fold2 smartphone at the company's shop in Seoul. Bloomberg

Brewing competition but no upfront challenge for Samsung

Trailing Samsung's foldable debut, rival companies such as Huawei, Lenovo and Motorola released their own foldable phone models.

Huawei launched its second foldable phone, the Mate Xs, which caters to high-spending customers in February last year. Priced at $2,715, the device's launch price was $115 more expensive than that of its predecessor, the Mate X, which came out in February 2019.

Despite the entry of new players, Samsung controlled about 73 per cent the foldable smartphone market in 2020. About 2.8 million foldable phones were shipped last year.

Brands such as Vivo, Oppo and TCL are expected to release their foldable handsets this year.

Cupertino, California-based iPhone manufacturer Apple is expected to launch its first foldable phone in 2023. It has developed prototype foldable screens for internal testing but has not solidified plans to actually release a foldable iPhone.

The Lenovo Group Ltd. Motorola Razr smartphone is displayed during an event in Los Angeles, California, U.S., on Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2019. Motorola is bringing back the Razr flip phone 15 years after it first debuted, rebooting it as a foldable smartphone as part of a return to the premium segment that would once again pit the company against Apple and Samsung. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

Future outlook

By 2023, Counterpoint expects foldable smartphone shipments to grow tenfold. Samsung will continue to rule the industry with about 75 per cent of market share, the market research company said.

To attract more budget customers, Samsung is expected to reduce the price of its new foldable phones, industry experts said.

“More affordable Samsung foldable smartphones may be attractive to some users, especially those who have previously purchased plus- or ultra-sized S-series or Note models,” Counterpoint senior analyst Maurice Klaehne said.

Overall smartphone market

Global smartphone shipments are forecast to reach 1.38 billion units this year, up 7.7 per cent over 2020, the International Data Corporation reported.

Foldable smartphones (9 million) will make up a fraction of the 1.38 billion smartphones expected to be sold this year.

The Huawei Mate X foldable smartphone is displayed January 8, 2020 at the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Robyn Beck / AFP)

Counterpoint remains bullish about foldable devices in the long term.

“Three key things must happen before we see any significant volumes – significant price declines with flagships at around $1,000 to $1,500, more vendor participants and Apple’s entry into the space,” said Mr Park.

Updated: August 12, 2021, 4:25 AM