Foldable Phones May Succeed Where Tablets Have Failed

A screenshot of the Galaxy Fold website.
Samsung

Foldable devices are hyped as the next step in mobile phones, but that may not be the case. Instead, foldables may be the next step for tablets, and they could succeed where tablets have failed.

Let’s Face It; Foldable Phones Are Tablets

What’s a foldable phone’s selling point? Is it the plastic screen, the fragile design, the $2,000 price tag, or the tablet-sized inner screen?

You already know the answer. Foldables like the Galaxy Fold and the Huawei Mate X are exciting because of their massive screens. Their fragility and flaws would be unacceptable from even a $300 phone, but people are willing to pay a few grand for a tablet that can fit in their pocket.

Our obsession with devices like the Galaxy Fold is very telling. It shows that, while tablets are technically considered “portable” devices, they’re not really portable enough for us to be happy with them. After all, people hardly care about clamshell-styled foldables (like the Razr 4). They only care about the foldables that are technically tablets.

Foldables May Succeed Where Tablets Have Failed

A screenshot of the iPad 2010 launch event. Steve Jobs shows three categories, a phone, a tablet, and a laptop.
Apple/AllAboutSteveJobs

In the original 2010 iPad announcement, Steve Jobs makes it clear that the iPad isn’t just a big iPod or a small laptop. But he doesn’t seem too confident in how the iPad should actually be used. He says that its “the best way” to browse the New York Times, read books, play games, or reply to emails. He even (reluctantly) suggests docking the iPad on a peripheral keyboard (in vertical orientation) after spending an hour talking about how the tablet is a “third” device separate from laptops and phones.

In other words, the original iPad presentation is precisely like every tablet presentation that’s come after it. Manufacturers have no idea how to sell these devices.

Don’t get us wrong; we like tablets. But from a business perspective, how do you encourage smartphone-owning customers to pay $300+ for a portable device that doesn’t (always) have a mobile connection, doesn’t fit in a pocket, runs iOS or Android, and doesn’t work with professional software?

A tablet isn’t a necessity, and tablets can’t replace the devices that are necessary for your life. But foldables may change things. Foldables, with their large screens and portable form factors, could be more practical and usable than phones or laptops. They could actually occupy that “third” space that Steve Jobs talked about in 2010, or they could eliminate your need to have multiple devices in the first place.

Foldables May Become Popular Laptop Alternatives

A photo of the Galaxy Fold running multiple apps simultaneously.
Samsung

Companies like Apple, Microsoft, and Samsung like to advertise their tablets as laptop alternatives. The idea is that these thin, powerful tablets are more convenient than your laptop, and they’re full of professional software that can stand-in for a “real” computer.

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