“There will be other form factors to follow. We’re investigating how would you roll [a phone] up, how would you stretch it, does it fold inwards or outwards?
Indeed, so much is Samsung merely testing the waters with the Galaxy Fold, it’s not even calling it a smartphone yet. It’s calling it a hybrid tablet/phone, a brand new category of device thatcould“become the next smartphone form factor” if things pan out, says McGregor.
Though, if analysts are right, the folding form could equallynotbecome the next smartphone form factor – the industry phrase for the size and shape of a device.
“I’m not expecting overwhelming demand for this form factor,” says Tuong Nguyen, a senior analyst at the research and advisory company Gartner, which specialises in mobile devices.
“Although Samsung showed us some interesting applications for this form factor, none of them are ‘must-have’, especially at the given price,” he says.
Still, says Nguyen, the Galaxy Fold is the beginning of a process that could result in something that really does matter to consumers: phones that don’t break the moment they slip from your fingers.
“I think as we start to see display technologies advance, we can move from foldable, to even more foldable, to bendable. This can make devices more portable as well as potentially more crack resistant,” he says.
Foad Fadaghi, managing director of the Australian telecommunications research company Telsyte, refuses to write off the foldable phone form factor entirely, but simply says that, like many “first generation” designs, consumers might take some time to come to appreciate it.
“It will come down to application support, and how comfortable users will be with using a different UI experience,” he says.
The user interface experience on the new form factor is one area where Samsung has put in a lot of work already, it happens.
Since last year it’s been working closely with Google, the maker of the Android operating system that runs on the Galaxy Fold, to ensure that Android is able to make use of the 7.3-inch screen that unfolds when the Fold is opened, as well as the long, thin, 4.6-inch screen that comes on when the Fold is closed. At the launch of the Fold in San Francisco, Samsung executives showed apps moving seamlessly from one screen to the other when the screen was opened and closed, without the user having to move or reopen them manually.
And it’s done some work to make the 7.3-inch screen inside the phone as familiar as possible, too.
The screen has an unusual aspect ratio for a phone or tablet: 4:3, much squarer than consumers are used to, and possibly a bad shape for a lot of Android apps, many of which have been designed with Android’s more typical aspect ratio, 16:9, in mind. To counter this, Android on the Fold (and presumably on other foldable phones, such as the one Huawei is expected to announced this coming week at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona), can now divide the screen into three smaller sections, each of them more akin to the shape of current mobile phone screens.
But is it worth the effort, getting used to a new way of using phones just to get a much bigger screen?
“A folding screen is the solution to a problem that most consumers aren’t experiencing,” says Joe Hanlon, publisher at the phone comparison website WhistleOut.
“I think flagging tablet sales point to the fact that while larger screens are nice to have, most of us are happy with the size of the display on our phones.
”We don’t see that there is a lot of interest in the concept of foldable phones right now,” he says, though it might simply be too soon to tell.
It might be that foldable phones are so new, people just don’t know that they want them yet.