Foldable and 5G smartphones to take centre stage at MWC19

By David McQueen, Research Director at ABI Research

The first smartphone truly identified as being foldable came to market in November 2018 with the launch of Royole’s FlexiPai, which has paved the way for a whole host of vendors set to venture into the foldable phone category. Now joined by Samsung with its recently announced Galaxy Fold, more smartphone vendors are gearing up to debut foldable devices either at MWC or over the coming months as foldable smartphones look set to be a major trend for 2019.

With suggestions that Huawei, OPPO and Motorola are all to launch a foldable device at the show, players such as LG, Vivo, Lenovo, ZTE, TCL and Xiaomi will not be too far behind.  It remains to be seen whether other mooted foldable tablet PC and laptop concepts from players such as Intel and Microsoft will also be on display. Indeed, implementations using the folding form factor will be varied as there are a number of combinations and methods available to bring foldable devices to life.  Despite the obvious and immediate barriers to their effective use – notably extreme hardware innovation, smooth and optimized user experiences, and current eye-watering high prices – foldable displays are set to become an important form factor in future product portfolios bringing more and more innovation into device design.

And after years of complacency in the smartphone market, waiting for a modicum of design innovation, just like buses, two come along at once as 5G is also to make its mark at the show. There is anticipation that a number of 5G smartphones will be showcased, again taking the lead from Samsung following the announcement of a 5G version in its latest Galaxy S10 line-up.  While Samsung may have got the jump on its competitors all vying for the ‘first-to-market’ tag, it is expected that Motorola, LG, Vivo and OPPO may also make surprise announcements with 5G smartphones. Perhaps most intriguingly is a device expected from Huawei that is to double-up in the innovation stakes with it being both foldable and with 5G connectivity.

Perhaps the use of 5G and foldable displays may be the silver bullet needed to galvanize an industry on the wane, creating improved and immersive user experiences while stimulating smartphone replacement rates. Most of the major vendors (including Apple) are expected to launch devices carrying one or other, or both, of these features, either at MWC or sometime over the next 18 months. However, each will need to tread carefully when accommodating them into their portfolios as they are sure to initially command high prices, which comes at a time of prevailing consumer smartphone price fatigue.

To find all the latest devices at MWC19, check out which exhibitors are coming and where to find them at the event here.

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