It was Mobile World Congress (MWC) a few weeks back and foldable devices took the top spot as the next hot topic in mobile.
As manufacturers race to join the 'fold', our Product Director of Digital Insights, Glenville Morris, explains what travel brands need to know about this new mobile category.
I said it four years ago and I’ll say it again…I can’t believe this is coming. Okay, I’ll admit the "this" I thought was coming back then isn’t what Samsung first teased us with but it’s pretty close.
So, after many years of rumors and teases from the Korean giant, Project Valley has finally become more than just a project. It became a proper announcement, with a proper release date (April) but more importantly, it became a proper device: the Samsung Galaxy Fold.
Changing the shape of tomorrow
Foldable phones could not have come at a better time to silence the “peak smartphone” noise that has been deafening the industry in the last two years. The smartphone market is officially in recession.
Apple is not sharing iPhone unit sales anymore (psst, it's not selling as many) and there is a general malaise from consumers that there is less ‘different’ to this year's phone compared to the last.
Foldables are the adrenalin shot in the neck that mobile needed to speed sales up again, but if we step back a minute, it’s more than that.
Folding phones are the single biggest shift in the mobile form factor since Steve Jobs binned the physical keyboard in 2007 and “changed everything” (there, I said it).
In fact, I’m putting a stake in the ground right now to say that foldables will become the number one focus for any mobile company looking to not become the next RIM/BlackBerry of 2020 and beyond.
Plus, ask any Average Joe or Jane Public on the street what tech they’d want most in the next few years, a clunky AR headset/pair of glasses or a tablet that they can literally fold up and put in their pocket.
I know the answer to that question, but so do the mobile giants, which is why the recent MWC in Barcelona may have burst with the amount of "‘folding/foldable phone" press releases that have been coming out from every tech corner.
MateX (Huawei), Bendi (LG), Mix Flex (Xiaomi), Oppo, and even Motorola are just a few expected to appear in 2019 and that’s just the announcements since Sunday! Samsung may have been first out of the starting gates, but Mobile World Congress has released all the other horses in this race and boy are they fast runners!
Bend me, shape me
It’s been nearly five years since I last wrote about tablets for Travelport Digital and in those intervening years, a lot of the things I talked about in that blog came true. Haptic technology, curved displays, even Google managed to release Project Tango (before they shuttered it in 2017).
But other than those minor speed bumps on the tablet roadmap, nothing much has really changed.
The exciting tablet future they promised us never came true and that’s because of one thing (one device to be precise): the iPad. The iPad has dominated tablet sales since day one basically (April 3, 2010) crushing all tablet pretenders in its ‘big iPhone’ wake.
Don’t believe me? OK quick question: how many of you are reading this blog right now using a Motorola Xoom, or searched for flights last night tapping away at the glass on your Galaxy Tab?
I’ll save you the trouble of shouting it out: the answer is nada, zero, zip, not one of you.
Admittedly, the iPad may hover around the 30% share these days but when you look at the fact that Samsung, Huawei and Amazon are jostling for second place with low double-digit shares and then the rest of the 70% is made up of tens of tablet brands you’ve never even heard of, let alone used, you start to realize how dominant Apple has been and still is in the tablet market.
But will that dominance even matter in the next few years, will a tablet market even exist in a folding phone future?
“New? New is easy - right is hard”
Talking of Apple, where are they in all this new foldable furore? Well, as that famous quote from Craig Federighi proves, Apple are never first with new products but if tech history has taught us anything, they do tend to get it right.
Apple however has not been sitting on its hands over the past few years.
In an obvious bid to take the shine off the Fold hype last week, they released an update to a patent they first submitted in 2011 (that was approved in 2016) of a ‘flexible, folding display” on the very same day of the Fold announcement. Apple always have been great at PR.
So, while Samsung may have the jump on Apple and Google on releasing foldable phones, I’ll eat my non-folding iPhone XS Max if Tim or Sundar aren’t announcing the same thing onstage—but better— somewhere come 2020.
Have tablet, will travel
Some obvious questions, then:
- What will this new mobile category mean for the travel industry though?
- What will a folding phone come tablet device mean for an airline app?
- Will a hotel brand need a new "stage 6" of design thinking for their website?
Well, just like when the iPad launched, it may be too early to tell.
Cast your minds back to the great travel apps of 2010 onwards and it was very few trailblazers—brands like Lufthansa, Delta and Trip Advisor—that dipped their toe into that new form factor initially.
But with a brand new UI (one UI on top of Android stock OS) and functionality like App Continuity (seamless transition from large to small display and back again) could we see a new breed of innovative travel apps that really start to think outside of the phone box?
For example, real time stages of a journey displayed on the phone with a full trip itinerary unfolded on the tablet, or a simple flight status on the front complete with an airport map and destination guide when opened.
Whatever happens, Samsung truly have changed the shape of tomorrow, the question is, will travel brands be ready for tomorrow?
The next mobile battlefield
Now, whilst Samsung may claim to be the first (although *cough* The Royole FlexPai may be tapping on their lawyer’s doors as we speak about that claim) I don’t think they’ll be the ones that ultimately win this new war.
Other than the obvious elephants in the foldable room of Apple and Google not coming out of the gates yet, there are several other reasons why Samsung may be the bridesmaid and not the bride again.
Some things to consider:
- Price: Only US pricing has been announced so far but unless you’re living the Gordon Gekko dream, you probably won’t be rushing to drop $2k on a "phone".
- App optimization: So far we’ve only seen Facebook, Microsoft and Google apps running on the device. Unless thousands more developers get onboard, we’re going to see another Windows Phone desert of non-optimized apps.
- Pie: Even though the Fold will run the latest version of the Android OS, when has an Android OS ever been good on a tablet?
- Developers, Developers, Developers: Remember the thousands of devs who flocked to build Tizen apps? Nope, neither do we!
- Still the best: If the RAZR 2019 rumours are true, who needs the Fold?!