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[KH Explains] Competition heats up in foldable phones
Global foldable phone shipments to exceed 100m in 2027 with Chinese vendors, Apple's possible entry in 2025By Jie Ye-eun
Published : Aug. 6, 2023 - 15:45
Competition over the growing foldable smartphone market is growing fiercer, as Samsung seeks to maintain the market dominance it has enjoyed since the launch of its first foldable phone in 2019, while Chinese rivals are racing to catch up.
Xiaomi and Oppo have reportedly passed the Chinese government’s certification and are expected to roll out their new foldable phones, the Mix Fold3 and Find N3, respectively, within this month, according to industry sources on Sunday.
Chinese consumer electronics manufacturer OnePlus also teased its foldable phone a day before Samsung’s Galaxy Unpacked event, while the firm announced in March that its first foldable phone, the V Fold, will be released in the third quarter.
It was not the first time for Chinese smartphone makers to throw a feint ball at Samsung. A year ago, Xiaomi introduced its flagship foldable phone a day after Samsung’s unveiling event, and Motorola held an event for its Razr 2022 immediately after the South Korean tech giant’s event.
Xiaomi had previously said that it would overtake Samsung and take the top spot in the global smartphone market within three years.
“To catch up with the market’s ‘first mover’ Samsung Electronics, Chinese brands held their events around the ‘Galaxy Unpacked’ events recently to divert media and consumers’ attention from the market,” an industry watcher who wished to remain anonymous told The Korea Herald, calling it a “cheap strategy.”
Samsung has maintained the No. 1 position in the global foldable market, but has seen increasing competition from Chinese smartphone makers. As a result, its market share decreased to 45 percent in the January to March period, almost halved from the figure marked in the latter half of 2021, according to industry tracker Display Supply Chain Consultants.
But the South Korean tech giant is confident it can solidify its position despite Chinese companies’ competition.
During a press conference held in Seoul on July 28, following the Samsung Galaxy Unpacked 2023 event, Samsung Electronics’ mobile head Roh Tae-moon said, “As a leader in foldable phones, Samsung will continue to innovate in original technology and core know-how to continuously lead the market and maintain our current status.”
While Samsung is set to launch its latest foldable phone series -- the Galaxy Z Flip5 and Z Fold5 -- here on Friday, it already started accepting preorders for the new phones on Tuesday. According to three major wireless carriers, Samsung’s new phones are recording more preorders than its predecessors, with expectations that this year’s foldable phone preorders will likely exceed 1 million units.
During the presales live broadcast held via Samsung’s online store, Samsung.com, immediately after the beginning of preorders, the tech giant set the highest sales record for foldable phones -- 1.9 times more than the Galaxy Z Flip4 and Fold4 released last year, according to Samsung officials.
Despite the stagnant smartphone market, global shipments of foldable phones have continued to grow. Shipments are expected to grow more this year as an increasing number of vendors introduce new foldable devices.
Data from market research firms Counterpoint Research and IDC showed 14.2 million foldable devices were shipped last year, up from 200,000 in 2019, accounting for 1.2 percent of overall global smartphone shipments. Apple is expected to enter the foldable market in 2025, which is likely to boost foldable phone shipments to 101.5 million by 2027, according to a report from market researcher Counterpoint Research.
Even North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who is known as an "early adopter," was photographed with a device resembling a foldable smartphone in July. South Korea’s National Intelligence Service believes the phone is a Chinese product smuggled in by rail. Some industry sources said the device closely resembles China's Oppo Find N2 Flip model.
China has emerged as one of the most important markets in targeting global market share for foldable phones. As Chinese companies are gaining momentum in the foldable phone market, Samsung looks to attract consumers there by releasing additional high-end luxury foldable devices.
Market watchers forecast that Samsung will likely introduce the W23 and W23 Flip models only in China in October to solidify its No. 1 position globally. The W24 is expected to be a foldable phone that folds vertically and the W24 Flip is a close-shell foldable phone that folds horizontally, they said.
"Chinese smartphone makers are actively entering the foldable phone market, but most of them are sold only in China and still lack completeness. It will not be easy for them to follow Samsung Electronics," another anonymous industry source said.
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