Samsung's All Alone at the Foldable Party
Samsung is throwing itself a party tomorrow with a couple of guests of honor: its foldable phones. We'll likely see some updated watches and earbuds, but really, it's a birthday party for the Z Fold and the Z Flip. They've been around for years now, but last August was when they really hit their stride with the most mainstream models yet.
We're probably not going to see any dramatic upgrades or shocking price drops this year because Samsung doesn't need to produce any of those thrills. It owns the foldable phone category, and it likely will for some time. It's a foldable party with a guest list of one: Samsung.
Lest we forget, early iterations of the Fold and Flip were a little half-baked: awkward, too expensive, and not durable enough. But they got better. Last year's Z Flip 3 and Z Fold 3 felt almost normal, with robust water resistance and better usability.
Meanwhile, the rest of Samsung's competitors seem to be stuck on early design iterations or not showing up at all. LG threatened to bring a rollable phone to market shortly before it quit making mobile devices altogether. The 2020 Motorola Razr is overpriced, underwhelming, and overdue for an update. TCL talks a big concept game but has yet to deliver a foldable that anyone can buy.
It's a different story if you live in China, where Oppo and Huawei offer foldable devices, but they're limited to that market. And I haven't forgotten about the Surface Duo (though almost everyone else has). But the numbers don't lie: in 2021 Samsung shipped 10 million-ish foldable devices, with an 87 percent market share. It's still a tiny piece of the overall smartphone market, but it's definitely something to celebrate if you're Samsung.
It's not always going to be so lonely. Maybe Apple will join in a few years — claiming that it invented folding phones all on its own, naturally. There's certainly room for Google, whenever it shows up, or whichever company can figure out how to make a foldable that costs less than $1,000. But for now, go ahead and party like it's your birthday, Samsung.
The foldable phone market has been lonely for Samsung, and probably interesting. As more manufacturers do start to make foldables, it will no doubt become a more interesting market as well.