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The Future of Tech Is Here: The Foldable Phone Revolution

Estimated read time: 12 minutes

While some of you might find these predictions bold, as a CEO of a software development company, I am privileged to hear industry insider information on a daily basis. With this in mind, I will reveal to you the only real near-term revolution in the technology industry, and it is not crypto or the Metaverse.   

Let’s start by looking at the software trends in 2023. While markets such as blockchain and blockchain ecosystem-leading products such as crypto and NFTs made a strong start in the first half of 2022, they tumbled in the second half of the year.  

Let’s take the example of NFTs. According to Forbes, “the market capitalization of all collections listed on the site peaked at $35 billion in March. The total currently stands at $21 billion, representing a decline of 40%.”

The Forbes article continues by saying “NFT trading volume peaked in the first half of the year, with the weekly tally reaching a yearly high of $1.3 billion in April. Trading dropped 91% from that level to $115 million in December.”

While the article does go on to say that “the current weekly total represents a 340% increase over January 2021’s $26 million”, it is evident from the drop just what a house of cards this industry segment truly is. 

Turning to the other main blockchain ecosystem-leading product – cryptocurrencies – well, I’m sure that you have all heard of FTX and therefore have some understanding of the poor shape that crypto is in right now. Bitcoin is currently hovering somewhere below $20,000 per coin, a drop of ⅔ from its near $65,000 in November 2021.

It is clear that the promise of crypto, and many other blockchain uses, are not living up to the hype. The gold rush is over. What people are beginning to wake up to is the fact that these industries were largely funded by an excess of cheap money that has been being thrown around ever since the 2008 financial crisis.  

What about the evergreen virtual world promised by Meta and other VR companies and their versions of the Metaverse? Let’s take a look at the stats.

Facebook acquired Oculus Rift back in 2014, for $2 billion USD in a takeover that Forbes described as a “Tuesday afternoon shocker”. In Q1 of 2021, the reported revenue of Oculus Quest 2 headset sales was $280 million, down from the $337 million reported in Q4 2021. 

Considering that Q4 is a strong sales quarter because of the holidays, this figure might not seem so alarming, however, when you factor in that Mark Zuckerberg’s vision is that 1 billion people will use, and even work in the Metaverse, these figures are alarming. 

The Oculus Rift currently costs $400 each. Doing some simple math, $280 million divided by $400 is 700,000 units per quarter. This means that Meta is currently only shifting 2.8 million units per year, meaning it will take them 357.14 years to reach their goal of 1 billion headsets sold. 

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Indeed, more concerning, is that by Meta’s own admission, by the end of 2022, the Metaverse only had around 300,000 active users. Other estimates put that figure as low as 32,000.  

For those who site property sales, noting that “the ten largest virtual world platforms have produced $1.9 billion in real estate sales”, I will refer you to a man called Dennis Hope, who, since the 1980s, has been selling land on the moon at $19.95 per acre. To date, he has sold 611 million acres with his biggest sale being “a “country-sized” plot of land—2.66 million acres—for $250,000.” 

Perhaps it is this fact (or one of many others) that has made investors flee Meta shares like passengers fleeing the sinking Titanic. Meta stock has lost 70% of its value in 2022 or $630B, the largest decline in corp history. 

Things are almost certain to get worse for Meta in 2023 and onwards, especially given the continued reports that Zuckerberg plans to spend yet more billions of dollars on developing new Metaverse products. Zuckerberg’s folly conjures up images of some middle-of-the-night gambler going for broke by betting all his remaining chips on red in one last hope of making up his losses. 

A New Technology Starts Its Breakout

There is a trojan horse in the technology industry, however, one that made headlines when it was first released but has yet to get out of the gate. 

Fans of the popular Netflix TV show “Westworld” will have already seen a glimpse of the future. No, it is not humanoid robots (though this is likely in the distant future too, thanks to Boston Dynamics and Elon Musk), it is 2 and 3-screen foldable smart devices. 

Samsung launched the Samsung Z Flip a few years ago. Given the company’s position as one of the biggest hardware providers in the Android ecosystem, this was big news. Other companies soon followed. These include Oppo with its Oppo Find N, Microsoft with Microsoft its Surface Duo, Xiaomi Mix Fold, and Motorola with its Motorola Razr. 

The image below shows the Oppo Find N, one of the current leading foldable smartphones. 

foldable phone device

Image courtesy of Tom’s Guide. 

Foldable sales totaled around nine million units in 2021, while Samsung commanded a 62% market share of the foldable market in the first half of 2022. (makeuseof.com)

market for foldable phone sets

Source: RPRNA

Ok, so this is not much when compared to the 1.43 billion smartphones shipped in 2021, I hear you say. Well, you are correct. However, Future Market Insights, along with a growing number of technology publications, noted that the “foldable phone market size surpassed a valuation of US$ 6.8 Bn in 2021”, and predicted it would exhibit a CAGR of 25.2%. The same site predicts that it is likely to reach a valuation of US$64 Bn by 2031.

Now, this might seem strange since I sourced and quoted these figures, but I strongly disagree with the final prediction. Why? Well, it’s simple. Trends are something of a fashion as much as a need. And when it comes to setting what’s in and what is not within the smart device industry, we must turn to the Versace of tech – Apple Inc.

It has long been rumored that Apple will jump into the foldable phone market. Indeed, we even likely know its name – the iPhone Flip. Apple is already known to have a number of foldable phone patents and a number of display analysts such as Ross Young have suggested that 2023 or 2024 are the most likely dates for an iPhone Flip launch.

When Apple releases its Flip phone, there is going to be a mad rush by software application companies to develop or upgrade applications to make them Flip- and fold-phone compatible.

Indeed, the limited functionality of existing Android applications to deal with current flip devices, particularly the large size of current flip devices compared to normal smartphones, I believe, is the main issue why more people are not taking advantage of Android flip devices.

This will all change when Apple jumps.

Apple is almost certainly going to revolutionize the foldable phone. Aside from it raising the quality and performance bar, as it did for smartphones with the original iPhone, for example, it will likely push the boundaries when it comes to foldable device thickness. 

foldable Phone device

It is hard not to believe that once technological innovation has created thin foldable devices like those seen in Westworld above users won’t be rushing to (forgive the pun) flip over. 

Apple’s following is almost religious. According to Oberlo’s latest data on smartphone market shares in the US, “as of September 2022, Apple has the biggest piece of the pie, with 55.45%. Apple has a strong lead over its closest rival, Samsung. Its market share of 30.11% is 25.34 percentage points lower than Apple’s.”

Within the technology industry, Apple literally has the power to set the weather. It has strong relationships with companies like AT&T, Horizon, and other telecom companies. Thanks to these relationships, users can trade in their 2 or 3-year-old iPhone and get a substantial reduction in price on a new one. With Apple devices being as much a fashion accessory as a necessity, the outcome is easy to predict. 

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To put it plainly, once Apple releases a product, within a matter of a few years, a huge number of its users (certainly those in the USA) will have it. The golden rule of the software industry is that where the hardware goes, the software soon follows.  

This is why its foldable smartphone will make such a big splash. 

The Big Splash

Current devices only allow for one ‘fold’, however, recent plans I have seen show that future devices will be able to unfold not once but two or three times to give you up to a 10-13 inch screen, meaning that your phone can essentially become a tablet.

I will say that should this be the case, companies such as Apple will need to be cautious as they already have their own healthy iPad ecosystem, which they are unlikely to kill unless they can make the iPhone Flip as versatile as the tablet. Alternately, the iPad might well become an iPad TV and fold out to make a go-anywhere TV, who knows? 

Whatever happens, the release of the iPhone Flip will change the game completely. This will create a demand for folding app devices and will give those companies who have already developed or are developing them a huge advantage.

What it means for software producers is that they will all need to create an app for the new flip phone format. 

Examples of the new format requirements include onscreen keyword functions where the screen is split between a virtual keyboard and the application user interface. Another example includes resizability, where the application is able to adjust its size according to the screen size being used. Continuity, where the app seamlessly is able to switch between various screen sizes without the need for a restart, is another important example. 

In effect, what this means is that users will be able to slice and dice how they interact with their mobile applications. They will be able to operate their phones in a variety of different screen sizes, with a keyboard – virtual or real. This will mean that they can browse screens in small, medium, or large sizes, and at higher resolutions. 

This will make them unbeatable.

I believe that this will lead to a renaissance in mobile applications as they will need to become more complex by fulfilling more user requirements. Interestingly, foldable will also be the leading factor behind a website and internet browser renaissance, too. 

For years, software industry experts like Chris Dixon at Andreessen Horowitz have been prophesying the death of web applications in favor of SaaS mobile applications. On the whole, the industry has swung behind this view. However, this view gets upended by the mass adoption of foldable.  

Along with the larger screen size making websites more attractive to users, especially those with a lot of content or featuring video, it is likely that Flip phones will boost keyboard usage, which will inversely boost traditional website usage. Websites have a number of advantages (as well as disadvantages) over apps, particularly that they are often cheaper to build and maintain. 

This cost advantage helps to democratize access of businesses, organizations, and individuals to the vast mobile user base as they require less development money to build a great app. 

Another example of the enormous advantage of a web app over a mobile app is search traffic. For relatively little money, an individual or a company can start a website and potentially get ranked well in search results by including something as simple as a blog, meaning they are able to drive an enormous amount of traffic for little money. Driving traffic to a mobile app usually involves a large amount of money to advertise in the app store or on social media, etc.

Therein lies the seeds of the web application revolution. 

Goodbye Microsoft Windows

Once foldable devices take the place of current devices, every company will need to double down on foldable applications as everything you can think of will be available in the foldable format. As touched on before, games, maps, and videos, for example, are much more appealing on bigger screens.

As a result, mobile applications will become the new defacto desktop applications as they will be able to offer smartphone mobile convenience as well as laptop or PC large screen resolution. 

Another offshoot of this revolution will be the leap of both Android and iOS to become the world’s defacto operating systems for all types of hardware. While this is already true on smart devices (Microsoft has failed miserably to carve out a slice of this market with a series of failed attempts), Microsoft does still command the lion’s share of the PC market. 

smartphone market share

The above graphic by The Nielsen Company shows just how big a battle Microsoft is facing in the smartphone market. 

Since foldable will become the new norm device of choice, in effect replacing PC for all but heavy processing tasks like top-end games and graphic design work, etc., the already shifting technology landscape will likely be the final nail in the coffin for OS systems like Windows. 

Given that the PC market is already in a heavy “slump”, a decline that has been going on since the switch to smart devices began, Microsoft has a very big headache.

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Its Microsoft Surface product line has been anything other than industry-leading, however, the company has been apparently unwilling to launch a mobile-focused operating system over repeatedly upgrading its existing Windows system to try to bring it over to mobile.

This has not only left them trying to catch up but has also infuriated a huge number of their Windows PC users who are tired of constant, often unwelcome, updates. 

Google too, has fallen behind. Its Android system took the world by storm and pioneered many of the models that have become the norm today. 

Particularly damaging for Google was its failure to launch a successful hardware range, despite the Google Pixel 7 and 7 Pro having better camera lenses, software, and features than the iPhone. One explanation is Google’s baffling decision to tie itself to Verizon as an exclusive partner.

Google’s Android will continue to grow enormously due to companies like Samsung using it to power their devices. However, Google definitely needs to be ready for the foldable boom if it wants to compete with its biggest rival, Apple, which doesn’t have the headaches of having to make its OS compatible with so many different devices from so many different manufacturers. 

BTW, you can read about how Google is racing to catch up in the foldable hardware market here. Has it already dropped the ball when it comes to the foldable revolution? 

Apple has benefited from its focus on quality and maintaining its reputation and brand image. Apple’s OS is undoubtedly the best on the market – just ask anyone who has ever used it. Add to this Apple’s complete control over its products and the software developed for its platform, and you have an unbeatable mix. 

When it comes to foldable, the fact that Apple controls both the hardware and software ecosystem means that it will be able to focus on innovation and not worry about the compatibility and performance issues that are brought about by multi-brand hardware considerations.

This gives Apple all the advantages. 

What Does the Foldable Revolution Mean for the Software Development Industry?

The foldable revolution will increase demand for websites and foldable-compatible mobile applications. The software outsourcing industry will thrive as companies will rush to either build new mobile apps or convert their existing ones. 

Since these applications will be more complex, they will require more sophisticated development and, therefore, cause a rush on competent developers and dev teams. Developers will need to get up to speed quickly on building reliable and performant foldable apps. 

As the new and exciting functions made possible by foldables will please users, who will then demand these as standard, this is a win-win for the software development industry. 

Because there will be more demand, this might even lead to more technical frameworks appearing. There will probably be a new marketplace for apps too, one that competes with Google Play and Apple App Store. This I feel is overdue, since these platforms two charge extremely high fees that more and more businesses are resenting. 

Very recently, Twitter’s Elon Musk expressed his outrage at the fees being leveled by Apple on Twitter. Well, if the world’s richest man (at least was for a while) is complaining about high fees then it is safe to say that most other businesses are too. 

All this means that there will be a giant leap in terms of the number of competent software developers required to create solutions for these emerging trends. For those companies like Microsoft, who are already playing catchup, or those who fail to keep up, the foldable revolution is going to be even more punishing than Facebook’s focus on the Metaverse.  

A revolution is coming. It will let us all carry a large screen device effortlessly in our pockets that will give us the power to do much, much more with our smart devices. The future is foldable.

FAQs on a Foldable Phone

What is a foldable phone?

A foldable phone is a smartphone that has a flexible screen that is able to fold out to produce a bigger screen. Some of the latest foldable phones are able to fold multiple times, creating screens many times bigger than the original.

What is the iFlip?

The iFlip is rumored to be a foldable phone made by Apple. It is expected to be a multi-screen foldable with the usual performance-leading design and features that Apple is famous for.

How to build an app for a foldable phone?

Creating an app for a foldable phone is complex because it is cutting-edge technology. You will need to build a great development team and an MVP that you work intensely on developing according to the feedback you get from your users.


Alexey

Alexey Semeney

Founder of DevTeam.Space

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