Google has started taking pre-orders for its first foldable phone, with shipping of the gadget in June.
The Pixel Fold will sell for US$1,799, which is comparable to its main competitor, the Samsung Galaxy Fold 4.
Google is late to the foldable market — though not as late as Apple, which doesn’t have a foldable yet — but it’s taking advantage of its timing by targeting some of the Galaxy Fold’s perceived shortcomings.
For example, Google’s folding phone is slim and has a wide body for easy handling. The wider body also allows for a better aspect ratio for viewing its front and interior OLED displays.
“The Pixel stands out by having a wide aspect ratio. It’s ideal for content consumption,” said Brad Akuse, a mobile industry analyst at Circana, a global market research firm.
“The Samsung Fold has a more square screen, so you get black bars when you view content on it,” he told TechNewsWorld.
“When closed, the Pixel matches the dimensions of a regular phone with the advantage of a fold,” said Bob O’Donnell, founder and principal analyst at technology market research and consulting firm Technalysis Research.
“Samsung is a bit longer and thinner,” he told TechNewsWorld.
First Gen Blues?
At the heart of the Pixel Fold is the Google Tensor G2 processor, which Akyuz claims isn’t as powerful as the chip used by its competition. “The Galaxy Fold runs on the top-of-the-line silicon on the market,” he added. “The Pixel Fold uses its own chipset, which is not on par with the ones used by Samsung.”
In the past, he said, Pixel phones have had issues with their silicon. “We don’t know if that’s going to happen with the Pixel Fold, but I would say there’s a lot of peace of mind with the Galaxy Fold,” he said.
He also mentioned that the Pixel Fold is a first generation device. “Samsung Fold is in its fourth iteration,” he explained. “Samsung has gone through a lot of headaches that Google may have to go through.”
“We don’t know what kind of problems Pixel Fold customers might be facing and how Google might be able to address them,” he added. “With the Galaxy Fold, we have a pretty good idea of Samsung’s game plan.”
Still, the Pixel Fold outdoes its competition in a few other areas. It has a bigger battery, for example, and three cameras – a 48-megapixel main sensor, a 10.8MP ultrawide camera, and a 10.8MP telephoto camera with 5x optical zoom and 20x digital zoom. It can also take pictures remotely with a palm gesture.
Foldable phones appeal to business travelers
Still, that $1,800 price tag limits the audience for this Google offering and its foldable brethren.
“At the moment, we only see early adopters buying folding phones,” said Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies, a technology advisory firm in San Jose, California.
“They are still seen as a novelty, although they are starting to turn the corner,” he told TechNewsWorld. “As prices come down and more are offered, these folding phones could become a huge market in the future.”
Foldables also appeal to businessmen on the go. “I’ve found that when I travel, I can use my foldable and not carry my laptop,” said Nabeela Popal, a research director on the IDC Worldwide Tracker team.
“I found I could be productive. It made a difference,” she told TechNewsWorld.
“Foldables aren’t for everyone,” O’Donnell acknowledged, “but for some people, they’re a slam dunk because you get the equivalent of a smartphone and tablet in one device. It’s a lot of fun.”
“I love mine,” she continued. “I can look at documents on the phone and actually read them.”
Accuses said Samsung’s Fold line benefited from discontinuing the Galaxy Note series in 2022. “The Z Fold was able to attract many Galaxy Note customers,” he said, “who are known to buy these devices for business use, for productivity purposes.”
“The larger real estate on the display side allows for a richer user experience, especially for applications designed for this form factor,” he added.
Bright Spot in the Black Market
Aside from price, durability appears to be a barrier for some consumers entering the foldable fold. “You still have many consumers who are not completely convinced about the durability of foldables,” Akuse said.
He recalled a recent Circana survey conducted at a trade show, which found that of those consumers not interested in purchasing a foldable smartphone, 30% said durability was a driver for not considering a foldable smartphone.
“Two years ago, that figure was 40%,” he observed. “Samsung has done a really good job of improving the form factor, making it more durable, but also giving consumers peace of mind when it comes to servicing the device.”
While foldables are a niche product, they are a bright spot in the smartphone market. “The smartphone industry is going through a steady quarter-on-quarter decline,” Popple said. “In 2022, we see a 12% decline in the market and 15% in 2021. However, within this, we have seen the foldable segment growing at a brisk pace, albeit from a smaller base.
“Three years ago, a lot of people questioned whether foldables were going to become a real trend or fad, something that’s cool but will end up like 3D TVs,” he continued. “From what we’ve seen in new products over the past year and pickup – 100% growth in 2022 – foldables have been a silver lining.”
Pople acknowledges that the technology has a long way to go, but believes that the form factor is here to stay.
“Consumers love it,” she said, “and when software catches up to this new hardware, we’ll see it become more popular.”
Without Apple in the market, he noted that IDC expects 3.5% of the smartphone market — 50 million units — to be foldable by 2027. “If Apple enters the segment anytime in the next five years,” he said, “that number will definitely skyrocket.