Foldable phones: Present ‘tense’, future may be bright

The foldable smartphone market in India is still niche — but growing and growing steadily. The foldable smartphones made their debut in India in early 2019, just months before the pandemic changed the world. While Samsung showcased its first folding smartphone in February 2019, during the launch of the Galaxy S10 series, the smartphone hit the market a few months later. In October 2019, Samsung launched the first Galaxy Fold smartphone in India at Rs 1,64,999. Since then till the second half of 2022 (June end), around 3 lakh foldable phones have been sold in the country, according to market research company International Data Corp (IDC). IDC expects this number to grow by another 2.5 lakh in 2022, and around 3 lakh in 2023. The numbers are impressive considering the presence of only one smartphone brand in the fray and only two launches a year and that too in the upper premium segment.
Samsung, on its part, claimed record bookings for its latest foldable smartphones — Galaxy Z4 and Galaxy Z Flip4 — launched recently. The company said that it witnessed record pre-bookings by 50,000 customers for its newly-launched flip and fold mobile phone models within 24 hours. “All our internal estimates show that the market will grow at a healthy number and we will outpace at 2x,” Aditya Babbar, head of product marketing, Samsung, told news agency PTI. He added that in the premium category alone, the company is looking at a 1.5-times growth in sales over the last year. Babbar, however, declined to disclose the units Samsung sold in 2021.
“Samsung has made strides with its 2 models – Flip and Fold – which are in their 4th iteration now. They are quite ahead of their competition in bringing great hardware and software experience on such novel form factors,” said Navkendar Singh, Associate Vice President, Devices Research, IDC India, South Asia & ANZ
Challenges remain
While the numbers appear good, challenges remain for the foldable phones segment. “Consumers like the larger screen these days and foldables give them exactly that for content consumption and creation both but in a much more pocketable form factor. However, consumers expect standard things from foldables that they are getting in normal smartphones these days – battery life and great cameras. Due to the innovative form factor of foldables, there are some limitations on these fronts, however, these should come at par in the next few iterations or launches by other price points,” said Singh. Another big challenge is the high price point of foldable phones. The latest foldable phones from Samsung start at Rs 89,999. Galaxy Z Flip4 is priced at Rs 89,999 onwards, while Galaxy Z Fold4 at Rs 1,54,999. “Consumers expect foldables to be available at much more palatable price points, especially in a price-conscious market like India,” said Singh.
What may help the foldable phones segment to grow much faster
The entry of ‘affordable’-premium’ folding phones is what may take the segment to the required next level. The entry of Chinese brands Oppo, Vivo and OnePlus here may help move the market in that direction. While Oppo showcased its foldable phone last year, OnePlus teased its foldable phone last month — confirming that the company is working on a foldable device.

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