This article was originally published on our sister site, A Little Bit Human.
In this article:
- Folding phones, the modern smartphone answer to the flip phones of yore, are the latest craze in the tech world.
- But the version’s we’re getting right now are still pretty fragile and not that practical.
- Still, with all the investment manufacturers are putting into developing foldable phones, the new design could be here to stay.
We’ve all seen the commercials for the latest and greatest foldable phones like Samsung’s Z Fold and Z Flip or Motorola’s Razr. I get it, it’s mind-boggling to even think about how these phones work.
While these truly are technological marvels, the ones available right now are pretty fragile. Despite that fragility, it seems like every major phone manufacturer is dipping its toes into the folding phone pool. One reason for that is because a lot of people are looking for new form factors that’ll determine the smartphone’s future. But there’s also another, bigger reason that we’ll dive into later on.
The trend begs the question: Will all phones eventually be foldable? Is it the future of smartphones or just a passing fad?
What Are Folding Phones and How Do They Work?
Simply put, folding phones are just regular old smartphones, but with a flexible screen and a folding body to accommodate that screen. This foldable screen is usually on the inside to protect it from the elements and it’s activated when you open the phone like a book.
This allows for a much larger screen size than what we’re used to with traditional smartphones. But, it’s not just that: Foldable phones also have a non-foldable LCD or OLED screen on the outside that acts as the screen you use when you don’t want to use the larger foldable screen.
There are a handful of different types of folding smartphones on the market right now. Of course, one of those is the old-school (non-smart) flip phone. Yes, they still make those.
But the folding phones that you’re probably thinking about right now are the tablet form factor folding phones like the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold; the phone form factor ones like the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip; or the rebooted Motorola Razr that looks more like the old-school foldable phones.
Are Folding Phones Durable?
You might remember reading that the outer screen on a foldable phone is there for you to use when you don’t want to use the folding inner screen. But why do manufacturers bother including the outer screens?
The biggest reason is practicality. I mean, with a folding phone, you wouldn’t want to unfurl your phone every time you need to use it.
But the other big reason is that the foldable screens themselves are made out of a plastic OLED material. While it’s extremely flexible compared to the regular OLED screens, the downside is that it’s not as scratch-resistant as Gorilla Glass (or any glass) so you’ll have to be a bit more careful with your foldable phone.
I know some might think that plastic doesn’t shatter so it must be more durable than glass. That’s the reason the regular Nintendo Switch has a plastic screen, after all. And you’re right, it won’t shatter.
But shattering is not the problem. The problem is that the screen is too soft to withstand regular daily use. It can develop deep scratches even with your fingernails alone.
Another huge reason is that some folding phones are not fully enclosed. Dust and lint are everywhere, especially in our pockets. Without being fully enclosed, that’s going to get in the phone.
That’s exactly what happened with some of the first-gen Samsung Galaxy Fold units. The worst part? When dust gets into the phone, it all circles back to damaging that extremely fragile display.
One last thing: Most foldable phones will develop a crease within months of use. That might not be the biggest issue compared to scratches and damage from dust and debris. But it’s not a tiny crease. It’s ugly and definitely noticeable.
Whether folding phones are durable or not is still up for debate. I mean, that Z Flip with an ugly crease in the photo above still works. I’m sure that as time goes by, more and more durable versions will come out, perhaps losing the crease and even making the screen a bit tougher to resist fingernail scratches.
That being said, I think it’s important to note that these are still early adopter products. The phones haven’t been on the market for very long and there are sure to be advancements in durability as time goes by.
Even so, I doubt that folding phones will ever be as durable as our glass screened phones. After all, making something that’s both flexible enough to fold and hard enough to be scratch resistant isn’t easy.
So until these folding phones become durable enough to at least last three years, I don’t see it being the future, especially knowing that we need to head into an eco-friendly future.
Why Do These Folding Phones Even Exist?
Considering that folding phones are probably going to die out in the future, it begs the question: Why do they exist in the first place? There are several answers to that.
Folding Phones Have Real-Life Benefits
I’m sure a lot of us are frustrated to know that even though smartphones are about as powerful as a laptop, they can’t do much more than one. The biggest reason for that is the fact that phones just don’t have the screen real estate that laptops and tablets have.
Folding phones might make it possible to put a 3-in-1 device right in our pockets. It’s a phone that would allow us to use it like an everyday phone. Then, when you unfold it, it can become a tablet with more screen real estate. With a few other attachments like a keyboard, mouse, monitor, and USB-C, it could even serve the function of a laptop.
But then again, a multi-purpose device often gets beaten to a pulp with how much use it gets. And with how fragile the current folding phones are, we’d need to see a lot of improvements in durability for it to realistically serve as a 3-in-1 device.
Building futuristic prototypes and concepts that prove some crazy idea is a great marketing tactic. Take the automotive industry for example. You see a lot of futuristic cars every now and then on car shows. We have driverless cars, different engine tech, and even tire tech.
Anything that turns the impossible into possible, the science-fiction into science is a great tool for marketing.
It’s the same thing for tech companies. Whenever they unveil a crazy new design, it brings in a lot of attention. Let’s take Samsung for example, which is the leading company making foldable phones right now. It started developing curvy displays years ago with products like curve-TVs, wrap-around displays, and edge displays starting with the S6 Edge.
Next time you hear a company saying that folding phones are definitely the future, take it with a grain of salt because it might be plain old marketing.
Back in the early 2000s, just about everybody had flip phones. A couple of decades later, reviving the folding style seems like a definite attempt at tapping into nostalgia to drive sales. One company that’s definitely tapping into nostalgia is Motorola, which revived the Razr, one of the most famous flip phones back in the day, as a foldable smartphone.
Folding Phones Need Work Before They Become Mainstream
Folding phones have a lot of potential to take off and be successful, and it really is exciting to think about the possibilities of the new technology. But they aren’t the future (yet). They’re not durable. There’s little to no real-life benefit to using them. Companies are just using them as a marketing tool. And, finally, folding phones are just tapping into people’s nostalgia.
Unless these phones become more durable, more affordable, and serve more purpose than just a nostalgia trip, I don’t see them becoming mainstream any time soon.