Innovation is a critical driver of growth in technology, and the smartphone market is a prime case in point. When the original iPhone and Android systems were launched, they exploded with growth and sent one-time leaders down. The question is, will the foldable phone, introduced just a few short years ago, have a similar effect?
As far as I can tell, the foldable phone will never become a replacement for the vast majority of users but it’s shaping up as a meaningful growth segment within the smartphone marketplace. And that is music to the ears of companies like Samsung (), Huawei, OPPO and Motorola ( MSI ).
IDC predicts the foldable smartphone market will grow more than 250%, to $29 billion in sales, by 2025, with some 27 million units sold. The research firm’s outlook, which would leave foldable smartphone makers in an incredibly strong position, certainly helps explain growing interest in the market. Nonetheless, with the total smartphone market today pushing past 1.5 billion devices, the question is, how large can foldables get and will their growth be durable?
Grading Foldables on a Curve
In thinking about how large the market might become, it’s helpful to consider where it sits today on a typical growth curve. Companies and technologies all ride such waves as they rise, crest and decline; some growth curves are short and quick, and others long, but all have lifespans. And I believe the foldable smartphone — which has been steadily gathering strength in recent years despite its slow start — remains on the growth side of its curve. In fact, based on what IDC says, we appear to be in this growth opportunity’s early years.
To be sure, predicting which products the marketplace will adopt in large numbers is not linear. Sometimes success requires multiple technologies working together. When the iPhone and Android devices were launched, there were only a few hundred apps. Today, there are millions — a huge driver behind the growth of these smartphones. Foldable phones will have access to all the features and functionality of regular smartphones and all of the same apps: but what kind of new apps and experiences will emerge to take advantage of the new form factor?
Another big question is whether Apple (AAPL) will release a foldable iPhone. They have what seems to be a foldable phone patent but it’s not clear when or whether they will jump into the market. In fact, the design-scrupulous, brand-fanatical Apple may well opt to stay away. (Consider that the Windows marketplace has been heading toward laptops with touchscreens for years, but Apple has demurred when it comes to the MacBook.)
Bottom line: I do not believe the foldable phone is going to flip the smartphone market on its head but it will be a solid growth segment.
Jeff Kagan, a telecom, technology and wireless industry analyst and consultant, is an Equities.com columnist. He covers 5G, AI, IoT, the metaverse, autonomous driving, healthcare, telehealth, pay TV and more. Follow him at JeffKagan.com, and on Twitter @jeffkagan and LinkedIn.