Mid-range phones in particular have gotten so good, that sometimes I even wonder why anyone would be willing to spend over $1,000 for a big-brand flagship.
In any case, here we are in the middle of 2022. It’s not the magical space year of rollable phones, dual-screen phones, augmented reality, or at least one where everybody has a foldable in their pocket. But it’s still exciting.
As it needs to be, because it’s getting harder for brands to convince users to buy their new phones, unless those phones have something cool and new to offer. Usually these days we see the likes of Apple, Samsung, OnePlus and Xiaomi bank on the camera – they’ll introduce a phone with a huge one, and promise improvements in that area. But is it enough?
Samsung knows people are harder to sell on a product, unless it truly offers something different
Z Fold 4 leaked design images
The upcoming Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 and Galaxy Z Flip 4 aren’t just quirky, unusual phones for niche audiences. With each generation of Z Folds, Samsung positions itself as the most reputable brand to buy foldables from, improving the products annually, and being ahead of the competition. Especially competition that hasn’t even started selling foldables to date.
Yet magically, despite Samsung being one of very few brands who have released foldable phones, foldable phone shipments rose 300% just last year, and who knows how much further they’ll rise in 2022.
How does that work? Well, the fact is, Samsung‘s foldables are selling much better than you may think, despite their seemingly niche appeal and high price.
Samsung took on a big investment risk when it decided to make foldables back in early 2019. There wasn’t really a market for foldables. Most people hadn’t even imagined a folding phone, let alone wanted such a thing. And Samsung’s first Fold didn’t really have the smoothest launch either.
Yet none of this stopped the Korean giant from improving it each year, with every new Z Fold iteration. It never gave up on the Z Fold.
And where some might see a huge Korean company blowing away money for a niche product that not a lot of people want, what we should really be seeing is a company investing into the future.
A company likely aware that it’s harder to convince you – the consumer – to buy the same new slab with just a bigger camera each year. Instead, Samsung has single-handedly made foldable phones mainstream through lots of expensive advertising, and even more expensive research and development. So when the time comes, when you just don’t have it in you to spend money on roughly the same phone as last year – Samsung has something vastly different and cooler to offer you.
Z Fold 4 (closed) leaked design images
How likely are Google, Apple and those other guys to release foldables now?
Let’s start with Google. The search engine giant we all know and love (?) actually did attempt to release a foldable phone several times now – the mythical Google Pixel Fold.
According to the many leaks we’ve seen for it, this device went through several name changes, delays and a possible cancellation. And the latter is due to Google deciding it just won’t be able to compete with the Galaxy Z Fold 4. Is Google being smart, avoiding losing money by releasing an inferior foldable, or perhaps it’s just not passionate enough about entering the folding market in the first place?
I previously suggested that if Google couldn’t release a Z Fold 4 competitor, what it could’ve done is release an affordable foldable phone instead, one that would potentially undercut the Z Fold 4 greatly, and sell purely due to its affordability. Many brands have done this – “If you can’t beat ’em, make a cheaper thing.”
But yes, it would seem that Google has given up on the idea of a Pixel foldable, at least for now, because Samsung’s Z Fold is just such scary competition.
Now let’s look at Apple – when is it releasing a foldable iPhone? How come Apple used to be the brand to introduce new, cool products we didn’t even know we wanted, yet now Samsung is the one doing it with foldables?
Well, like Google, Apple too was rumored to have been toying with the idea of both foldable iPhones and iPads, but so far, that’s gone nowhere. In fact, I’m willing to bet Apple will never release a folding phone, because it has its own trick up its sleeve – augmented reality. And it could be on the brink of showing it.
For years now Apple has been quietly working on its Apple AR glasses, which the Tim Cook-headed company likely sees as the true “next big thing”, and not foldable phones.
But there are other brands besides Google and Apple that we can check out. Brands that actually dared to compete with Samsung in the folding phone market, even despite the odds, which are concretely in Samsung’s favor.
Samsung’s foldable competition is out there – it’s just vastly overshadowed by the Galaxy Z Fold and Z Flip
The first foldable Motorola Razr actually came out before the Samsung Z Flip, did you know that? Moto beat Samsung to the punch, yet Samsung’s foldable is vastly more popular and successful – why would that be?
Well, it could be because Motorola’s Razr foldable is more expensive than the Z Fold, and perhaps more importantly – while I think it looks cool, it’s objectively less appealing to the masses than the Z Flip’s more conservative, sleek design.
It’s also fair to assume that the majority of phone buyers these days have grown to trust Samsung as a brand more so than Motorola, and buying a foldable phone does require a lot of trust in a brand. Because the first foldables we saw getting released seemingly broke way too easily and were prone to other issues, so people are more likely to choose the brand with the most credibility.
And from our personal experience, the Motorola Razr we reviewed was pretty creaky and didn’t feel too reassuring or premium, so… it makes sense that the Z Fold 4 sells better. But I’m rooting for Motorola nonetheless, because we need more competition in the foldable market. May the next Razr be awesome!
Huawei was one of the first brands to compete pretty boldly with Samsung’s foldables by releasing several of its own. And although it’s not a brand you’ll be seeing in the US or many other regions nowadays, it keeps on going. In fact, we recently did a Huawei Mate XS2 hands-on preview, and found it to be quite a competent, premium-feeling foldable.
But yeah, even though it’s clearly willing to, Huawei is unable to compete with Samsung when it comes to foldables or pretty much any phones, since while Samsung has taken over the entire world, Huawei doesn’t have a huge market reach anymore.
A couple of months ago we published our Oppo Find N review. Now that’s a foldable I was quite excited about and thought it’d be a solid Galaxy Z Fold competitor, because it actually has a subjectively better (wider screen) aspect ratio, and it’s generally smaller and more compact. It didn’t even have a crease in the middle of its folding display, which is something Samsung hasn’t figured out yet.
So how come this cute, solid folding phone from Oppo didn’t make waves and the world seemingly quickly forgot about it? It’s cheaper and more compact than a Z Fold, with arguably a better screen too. Well, it likely comes down to brand recognition and trust, mixed with availability again. You know Samsung and can buy a Z Fold pretty much anywhere. At the same time, you likely don’t know Oppo at all, its foldable is hard to find and buy even if you want it, and as a bonus, it doesn’t have all of the cool OneUI features Samsung’s foldable has, such as Samsung DeX.
Sooner or later, people will want something new, and Samsung is prepared to give it to them while stomping out the competition – the Z Fold 4 is just around the corner
So, there’s other foldables we could’ve mentioned, like the Xiaomi Mi Mix Fold, but you get the point – the upcoming Galaxy Z Fold 4 will certainly sell better than any other foldable phone, second only to the cheaper and more universally appealing Galaxy Z Flip 4.
What do you think – was Samsung smart to take on a huge financial risk and grow the foldable phones market to what it is today? Is it preparing for the future, where a slab phone just won’t be enough? Or do you believe foldables won’t last long, and are never going to become mainstream?