There’s a reason why foldable devices naturally excite many tech users. For better or worse, they’re a new take on the smartphone form factor that’s more or less stayed the same for the past decade. After all, there are only so many ways you can design a rectangular device made from two sheets of glass and one sheet of metal. Unless you let it fold, that is. Has been the biggest name in the foldables game since the very beginning Samsung. The Korean tech giant has an unparalleled market share in the segment, and for good reason. Under Samsung’s hegemony, foldable devices have come a long way. Still, the company’s position at the top will finally be put to the test in 2023.
This is especially a very good thing for foldables as a whole. In many ways, they’ve stagnated almost as much as traditional smartphones in recent years. Why change something that isn’t broken – this seems to be the common sentiment that explains why devices like the Galaxy Z Flip 4 are almost copies of their predecessors.
In this article I explain why this will change. In my opinion, 2023 will be a big year for foldable devices and the form factor will evolve significantly.
Chinese foldable is getting good and more and more widespread
One of the biggest reasons why the Galaxy Z Fold 4 and Galaxy Z Flip 4 didn’t introduce many noteworthy refinements to Samsung’s foldable lineup, but they were (and remain) the only readily available choice for Western consumers in the foldable smartphone market.
The vast majority of Samsung’s competitors when it comes to foldable devices rarely (if ever) launch their devices internationally. This means that Samsung has little incentive to innovate, due to limited competition in key markets such as the US.
Fortunately, this is about to change. Many Chinese folding manufacturers are going to expand internationally and bring their devices to more Western consumers. This means users get a chance to feel a Chinese foldable in their hands and, spoiler alert, they’ve gotten really good. Oppo’s new foldables (the Find N2 and the Find N2 Flip) are light, have an almost invisible crease and crease without a gap. In terms of hardware, some Chinese foldables are superior to Samsung in many ways.
This could eventually force Samsung to address some of the persistent issues plaguing its foldable devices. It’s not about whether another foldable manufacturer manages to dethrone Samsung (chances are no one will). Still, it’s important to put pressure on Samsung to prevent the latter from falling into the trap of complacency. This is beneficial for everyone – from Samsung to foldable devices in general and for users as a whole.
Competition is ultimately the driving force behind product innovation in the smartphone world. So the more we have of it, the better. Speaking of competition…
Google’s Pixel Fold will give Samsung a run for its money
By most accounts, Google will announce a foldable Pixel in 2023. Many reports point to a launch in the first half of 2023. This is very close and very close to the future debut of the Galaxy Z Fold 5 and Galaxy Z Flip 5 in August 2023.
Google has the resources to take on Samsung, especially in the US, where the latter is already struggling to compete with the likes of Apple. If the Korean tech giant threatens to lose even more ground in a market as important as the US, chances are it will do something about it.
It’s too early to tell if the Pixel Fold will be good enough as a device to challenge Samsung’s Galaxy Fold. If so, this makes things all the more interesting.
Nevertheless, the foldable Google will adopt the notepad’s foldable design. For reference, clamshell-style folding cards tend to sell better, and the Galaxy Z Flip 3 is still the most commercially successful foldable to date. This still leaves a lot of room for Samsung to maneuver.
At best, though, the Pixel Fold will be a viable alternative to the Galaxy Z Fold 5, which Samsung will push further to bring the latter as close to perfection as possible.
Samsung’s new strategy: profit is no longer the main concern
The final reason I think 2023 will be a big deal for foldable is that Samsung is expected to report some worrying corporate earnings for Q4 2022. Most analysts expect the Korean tech giant to face financial challenges in 2023 as well to stand. By all accounts, Samsung needs to do better to maintain its status as a global leader not only in the foldable segment, but also in the smartphone market as a whole. To achieve just that, the company will adopt a new strategy.
According to reliable sources, Samsung will try to increase the competitiveness of its products, especially in the ultra-premium $1000+ price segment, where Apple reigns supreme. No longer will the focus be on achieving maximum cost efficiency and higher profit margins, Samsung will try to make devices like the iPhone 14 Pro Max a run for their money.
Counterpoint Research’s studies confirm Apple’s dominance in the segment
Based on the questionnaire results above, I’d really like to see them try it. In my opinion, those who feel confident buying a foldable tablet are just getting one from Samsung right now without much extra thought. But many on the fence end up going for the safer option: a traditional flagship.
I’m one of those consumers – I really wanted to buy the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4, but in the end I decided to stick with what I know and bought a iPhone 14 Pro instead. Samsung has to work twofold (pun intended) to succeed.
When you charge that much money for a smartphone, it’s not good enough to be the best foldable smartphone – you have to be (one of) the best smartphones, period. At the moment I’m not sure if that’s the case with Samsung’s foldables.
Conclusions: Why 2023 will be an important year for foldable devices
In short, 2023 will be the start of a new era for a market where competition is currently almost at a standstill. Essentially, three major factors will push the form factor to its limits.
The first is the presence of Chinese manufacturers in Western markets. The second is Google’s entry in the foldable segment. The third and most important factor is Samsung’s own will to consolidate its status as the undisputed king of the form factor.
Let’s hope these three reasons are enough to bring us vastly superior foldable cars in 2023. The potential is there. It’s only a matter of time before we use it.