They’ve arrived: foldable screens! What do they mean for your mobile apps?

In one corner, we have Samsung with the Galaxy Fold. Unveiled to developers in November, Samsung’s foldable smartphone has finally gone into production and will be available in Europe in May.

In the other corner, Huawei and its Huawei Mate X. Although its production is already well advanced, it will only be on sale from the second half of 2019.

Devices for the early adopter or a real revolution for a mobile world approaching a dead end… we have every right to wonder. This state-of-the art technology means you’ll always have a small tablet on hand. For professionals, it’s a tool to improve productivity without keep you tied down to one place. For the general public, it undeniably increases the ease of using a mobile phone. But at what cost?

1. Samsung or Huawei?

The foldable screen gives the impression you’re witnessing a show of force between several mobile challengers (we were previously talking about them with Sony) – an arms race to make their mark in an already very crowded market. However, two contenders for the title easily stand out.

Samsung : life in 3 dimensions

The South Korean giant sets the bar very high against the competition by announcing the ability to launch 3 applications at the same time thanks to the Galaxy Fold. Apps are expected to switch to tablet mode on runtime.
Folding inward reveals a third 4.6-inch AMOLED screen. The Galaxy Fold also features 6 cameras (yes… 6!). Legend even has it that there is a reverse charging system that could power the batteries of smartwatches or wireless headphones.
Even if it’s a tad outdated in its design (especially the 3rd screen), Samsung offers a product with a very high quality finish.

Price: €2000  (it will actually be sold as a limited edition luxury product… at this price we can understand why).

Huawei : a great deal of finesse

With its Falcon Wing design, the Huawei’s appearance stands out. It’s designed to be extremely thin and foldable with the screens on the outside thanks to a hinge which blends completely into the body of the device. Unlike its Samsung counterpart, the Huawei Mate X remains rooted in the trend towards borderless phones, promising a much more enticing and ergonomic user experience – something more “2019”.

Once the 8-inch AMOLED screen is folded out, you’ll be able to juggle 2 applications at the same time.

The cherry on top of the cake (or not): the phone will be 5G compatible!

Price : €2300

2. A flexible and thin promise?

Before addressing the many intricacies of these new devices, it’s worth questioning the very existence of these screens? Why on earth would consumers need a phone that can be folded like a piece of paper?

According to Justin Denison (CEO of Samsung) the answer is clear: “When opened, the foldable smartphone takes the form of a tablet, offering the user a widescreen experience. When closed, it becomes a phone that fits perfectly in your pocket.”

Well, we have to admit to being left a little perplexed at having a phone in your pocket the size of a remote control and weighing the same as a brick… In our opinion, it seems that this development is the logical and almost inevitable conclusion of the rise of the smartphone. The only way to make more space on the screen while minimising the size of the mobiles… is to create a foldable device. The idea is beyond tempting: use your classic smartphone in the subway and then unfold it so you can read your favourite Idéine articles once at home.

What about the purely technical aspects of the phone? Information is rather lacking in regard to the battery life, for example. Yes, it’s all well and good to double the conventional screen size, but it seems difficult to double the capacity of the battery as well. There are also many questions surrounding the phone’s robustness. Indeed, the Mate X’s Plastic OLED can be scratched more easily than a smartphone screen made from Gorilla Glass (fortunately, Corning is currently working on a “glass” version of its folding screens!). As for Samsung, the manufacturer knows that its screens have a limited lifespan. The benefit of a third screen when folded means it’s possible to use the phone without having to unfold it each time, therefore limiting the wear and tear. However, Samsung is considering offering its customers a free folding screen replacement.

The market for tablets has been in a bad state for a few years now. Apart from Apple who isn’t doing too badly with the iPad, few Android manufacturers have stayed in the game. Samsung might well get a second wind with its soft-screen mobile.

3. What will be the impact on your apps?

As we’ve already said, Samsung has announced it will be possible to launch 3 mobile apps at the same time. But any usefulness it brings will lie in the way developers design their applications.

The impact will be rather limited if apps are only designed to be responsive when the phone switches format. UX’s first thought will of course be to maximise the application space as much as possible to allow ease of use between the mobile format and the tablet format (in short, nothing revolutionary). One of the major challenges will therefore be in the search for new and previously unseen functions specific to this model of device. No matter what happens, the future of foldable smartphones rests on the ability of manufacturers to offer a product that fulfils the expectations of the greatest number of people…and their wildest dreams!

Our conclusion

This device – half-smartphone and half-tablet – promises to revolutionize mobile application design in the coming months. Manufacturers are in the middle of an experimental phase. However, you should keep in mind: it’s not the first time the public have doubted a concept before adopting it. For example, when the first Samsung Galaxy Note was released many criticized the size of its 5.3-inch screen. Today, a number of manufacturers have adopted large screens as a standard in the mobile world.

Although it may seem today like it will take time for manufacturers to find the right formula and convince users, “In the long term, however, folding displays are likely to accelerate the merging of smartphones, tablets and computers,” said Thomas Husson, analyst for Forrest