The fallacy of folding phones

In the HBO series Westworld, the people who operate the titular theme park can be seen accessing digital information and diagnostics via a paper-thin tablet that folds out threefold. In one scene, a character is seen answering a phone call on it and handling it as a smartphone. Certainly not the most impressive piece of technology that is showcased throughout this world, but this tablet is one of the only that enjoys a contemporary, albeit primitive counterpart.

Samsung, Huawei, Lenovo and others are leaning into the innovation of folding digital displays with enthusiasm. Mountain-moving marketing campaigns are underway to welcome a technology that is being pitched as practical, intuitive, or just downright cool. Impress your friends with the Galaxy Fold. Perform magic tricks with the wraparound display of the Huawei Mate X. One

Writing this just as Samsung’s mid-size folding phone the Galazy Z Flip has appeared in another leak, this state of technological innovations for consumers is only a cyclical pitstop. It adds very little of value to anything.

Cyclical meaning that this happened the first time that folding phones, or should rather say flipping ones, made a splash. It was in relation to the overall size of the device. Phones went from being cement bricks to flat rectangular cubes that could easily be stored in a handbag or fanny pack. Motorola kickstarted the overall trend with the MicroTAC and over the years, phones became synonymous with human existence. The change was a legitimate evolution of the experience.

This was the first part of the cycle. Things then got funky. Enter what remains the coolest phone of all time, The Motorola Razr. At this point, a smaller phone size is a given and the flip phone is a novelty along with every other shape design that came out of the 2000s (looking at you, Nokia). It did sell in the millions and importantly, its price tag shrunk during its lifetime. But it was still consumer technology that was stagnating thanks to no real changes to how we are able to deploy it. We went from flipping and saving space, to just flipping.

From flipping to folding a decade later. On the brighter side, foldable phones bear some advantages. Screen protection immediately comes to mind. And the ability to double up as a tablet bears an advantage for those on the move a lot. But for the innovations that companies will emphasize in their marketing, a primary selling point is multitasking. And the fact that it folds up like a book. Those that live on their phones may see visions of satisfaction upon growing accustomed to the trend but the rest of us, it’s too expensive, too gimmicky, and lacks any real signal of upcoming change.

Even other folding devices that feature two displays instead of one, the LG G8X ThinQ and the upcoming Microsoft Surface Duo, harbour no extended capabilities beyond the preconceptions of what they are already expected to do. This moment in phone tech is being hyped up and charged over something that isn’t necessarily pointless but of very little innovative yield.

I can appreciate the Galaxy Z Flip for remaining the size of a standard smartphone, but it does nothing to affront what I currently have despite it (supposedly) mimicking the sentimentality of an engagement ring box. The contents of which will probably be more expensive than an actual ring, and have lacklustre specifications to boot.

Think back to the last time that phone technology was changed forever. The iPhone brought about a screen that the masses could touch interact with. Android services created a universal interface accessible to everyone on both its frontend and backend. While waiting for that moment to come around again, I’ll shut up, keep my money, and go about my day. Even if Westworld somehow predicts the future and decades from now, folding tablets are still all the rage.