When will folding phones become actually affordable? - Android Authority

When will folding phones become actually affordable?  Android AuthorityPioneering a new technology isn't cheap. The latest foldable display technology seen in the Samsung Galaxy Fold, Huawei Mate X, and even the Royole ...

When will folding phones become actually affordable? - Android Authority

Pioneering a new technology isn’t cheap. The latest foldable display technology seen in the , , and even the is expensive. Too expensive for the general consumer to make 2019 the year of the foldable phone, despite the exciting revolution in design thinking.

This is partly the outcome of first-generation devices based on first-generation innovations.

At the same time, these foldable devices are intentionally made to be super high-end devices, packed with marvels. This revolution won’t be in our pockets and on our wrists just yet.

Here’s why.

Limited yields

Royole super thin OLED display

For display technology, the road from lab innovation to consumer hardware is long and slow. Complex hardware and expensive fabrication processes require huge upfront investments in the order of billions of dollars. Once mass fabrication begins, manufacturing yields can constrain the viability and profitability of new technologies. A panel with even a single dead pixel can’t leave the factory.

, for instance, features a protective film made up of 11 distinct layers.

Even protective films are difficult to make: the Nubia Alpha features a protective film made up of 11 distinct layers.

Aside from the display itself, the final manufacturing yields of foldable products are believed to be much lower than conventional smartphones. Besides the displays, new and complex are another factor inflating manufacturing complexity and, naturally, the final retail price.

Limited production

Smartphone makers have to test the waters with foldables. But without a clear demand, the bets being placed are modest. OLED production for foldable displays is in its true infancy, making the per-item cost significant until economies of scale play out.

Whatever capacity is available is apparently in use at the moment, too. Android Authority understands from speaking with new smartphone entrant Energizer at MWC, that it contacted foldable OLED display providers and can’t get access to displays from these factories because other companies have already reserved all the capacity.

Given the expense involved and the limited demand, even the largest OEMs are committing to much lower runs of devices when compared with other flagship smartphones, a complicit factor in high unit costs. Fab utilization isn’t going to go dramatically higher from these test devices, creating a chicken and egg scenario.

Exclusivity and control

Here’s the other factor that is more inside the control of manufacturers right now. These are first-generation devices. They’re as good as they can be today, but they’re still imperfect. The Galaxy Fold is hindered by the fold gap that we still haven’t seen a lot of. Meanwhile Kris’  were encouraging, but still show that the device appears to be a proof of concept, rather than a proof of our future.

As Kris wrote in his impressions post, the big deal here is the “dual benefit of driving innovation,” and “enabling a very public pissing contest between two of the biggest smartphone manufacturers in the world.” Not, so much, the devices themselves.

Samsung Galaxy Fold Price

In terms of control and exclusivity, Samsung and Huawei aren’t offering these devices at reasonable prices to try and sell them. The exclusivity of both devices serves them far better than being flogged cheaply, as Samsung is showing with its .

Both manufacturers are retaining control with high-end, high-cost, and yet unclear value items.

Not even Samsung or Huawei are sure of the value of their products; they aren’t mass-producing them, and they aren’t pricing them to sell. They’re pricing them to try and retain control and not have them in the mass market before they’re seriously proven.