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Home Electronics: Technology, News & Trends 2024 Smartphone Market Outlook: Is it Finally the Breakout Period for Foldable Phones?

2024 Smartphone Market Outlook: Is it Finally the Breakout Period for Foldable Phones?

Foldable phone

In 2023, it was a year of complete maturation for foldable phones. Throughout the year, we saw a plethora of excellent products such as the MIX Fold 3, Huawei Mate X5, OPPO Find N3, vivo X Fold2, and Honor Magic VS. Compared to the previous two years, foldable phones have achieved a relatively perfect balance between weight and configuration. Therefore, 2023 became the year of the most rapid development in the foldable phone market.

According to data from CINNO Research, in the third quarter of 2023, foldable phone sales in the Chinese market reached 1.98 million units, a year-on-year increase of 175% and a quarter-on-quarter increase of 70%. This marked the twelfth consecutive quarter of year-on-year growth. The institute also stated that in the context of overall low demand in the smartphone market, foldable phones, benefiting from innovative development in form factor, still maintained a trend of counter-cyclical growth.

With the arrival of 2024, foldable phones will also usher in new players and situations. Since 2024 has just begun, let us anticipate what changes will occur in the foldable phone market this year.

Small Foldable Screens are the Mainstream, While Large Screens are Just for Show?

In 2022, Lei Jun once said that 2023 would be the year of explosion for small foldable phones (i.e., vertical folding form). As it turns out, this prediction was accurate. Take the example of the first small foldable phone released by OPPO, the Find N2 Flip. Its release directly drove OPPO’s foldable phone sales to increase by over 300% year-on-year and captured 28.4% market share, surpassing Huawei to claim the top spot.

According to market research firm Counterpoint, the Find N2 Flip seized the crown of foldable phone sales with a sales share of 14.8%, making it the most popular foldable phone in the first half of 2023, with sales surpassing the second-placed Huawei Mate X3 by nearly half.

Find N2 Flip

The reasons for this are simple. Firstly, the manufacturing cost of small foldable phones is relatively low, making their prices more affordable. Most small foldable phones on the market are priced between $550 and $850, much cheaper than large foldable phones. Secondly, the target market for small foldable phones is female users, who have always been a high-spending group in the smartphone market. Therefore, companies that cater to the needs of female users are likely to succeed, as seen with OPPO in 2023.

Currently, Samsung, Huawei, Moto, OPPO, vivo, and Transsion have launched their own small foldable phones. However, this market has not yet entered a fully competitive stage. It is believed that when Xiaomi and Honor enter the market, the landscape of small foldable phones will undergo new changes, bringing surprises in terms of configuration, overall product capabilities, and pricing.

So, what about large foldable screens? In 2023, large foldable phones have been evolving towards a “hexagonal warrior” direction. Whether it’s the MIX Fold 3, Find N3, or vivo X Fold 2, they all prioritize providing consumers with flagship-level experiences and then consider the user experience under the foldable form factor, such as making the device thinner and lighter for better grip. Therefore, large foldable phones in 2023 are leaning towards being thinner and lighter, with Honor’s Magic Vs2 being the ultimate example, weighing only 229g, lighter than many flagship phones.

Honor magic vs2

However, the downside of being thinner and lighter is apparent, such as a loss of texture and weaker imaging. Nevertheless, this represents a new direction. Who says foldable phones must provide the ultimate experience? By appropriately reducing certain parameters to achieve a more affordable price, manufacturers may gain more acceptance from consumers.

In summary, in 2024, foldable phones are likely to follow three main paths. Firstly, large foldable phones will continue to move towards flagship-level experiences, further improving imaging and system aspects to justify their high prices. Secondly, a more budget-friendly product line will be introduced, slightly reducing the external shell, imaging, and performance, with prices around $700 to $850, which will attract many consumers. Lastly, more manufacturers will enter the market for small foldable phones, likely sparking intense competition.

Will Prices Continue to Drop, Competing with Straight-Screen Phones for Market Share?

In terms of pricing, foldable phones released in 2023 were mostly priced at around $1100 to $1300, which is even higher than the prices of most flagship phones by $300 to $450. For ordinary consumers, this is still not affordable. Some consumers may argue that foldable phones in the past two years were sold for over $1400 or even $2800, so in the future, foldable phones will definitely see a significant price drop, possibly reaching a price similar to that of straight-screen phones.

Foldable phone price

Latest also thought so in the past two years, but after experiencing many foldable phones, especially flagship foldable phones, his opinion changed. We believes that as long as the prices of mainstream smartphones have not dropped to the level where they can be purchased for several tens of dollars, foldable phones will never be sold for three to four hundred dollars, let alone completely replace straight-screen phones.

This is because foldable phones inherently have an extra screen and hinge, and because the current hinge technology in the supply chain is still being continuously updated, the production cost of foldable products remains high. For example, if you have a flagship phone with an extra screen of the same quality, its price will naturally increase significantly.

Moreover, no matter how smartphone manufacturers iterate and upgrade hinge technology, the irreversible damage caused by long-term folding of the screen means that the service life of foldable phones cannot be longer than that of ordinary flagship phones. In other words, the purchasing and usage costs for foldable phones are higher than those for ordinary phones, which will seriously slow down the popularity of foldable phones.

By 2024, Latest believes that as the costs of hinge technology and screens and other components decrease, and the shipment volume continues to rise, the prices of foldable phone products will continue to decline. More horizontally folding products are expected to enter the price range of $550 to $700, while smaller vertically folding phones may enter the price range of $300 to $450. It can be said that these two price ranges are the core shipment price segments for straight-screen phones.

However, it is boldly predicted that although the prices of foldable phones will decrease, compared to straight-screen phones at the same price point, they will definitely lack some of the configurations that straight-screen phones have, such as chip performance, rear camera systems, and charging rates. In 2024, foldable phones at the same price point will compete with straight-screen phones. Under the overall trend, more and more consumers will be willing to choose foldable phones. However, it is impossible for foldable phones to completely replace straight-screen phones, at least not within three years.

In Conclusion

The fundamental contradiction in smartphone design lies in the conflict between consumers’ demand for large screens and the need for compactness for portability, which controls the size of the device. Foldable screens represent a novel solution to this dilemma. Being lighter, thinner, and cheaper is the major trend for foldable screens in the coming years. However, striking a reasonable balance between new technologies and rising costs remains a challenge for smartphone manufacturers.

Currently, most consumers still perceive foldable phones as “the most expensive and the best” option. Only when everyone sees foldable phones as no longer unattainable luxury products will they enter a period of explosive growth.

Undeniably, the market share belonging to foldable phones is increasing. Of course, foldable phones are certainly more expensive than straight-screen phones due to the additional component costs. But what if they become truly affordable?

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