Are Indian consumers ready for foldable smartphones? . . . . By Nishant Arora
“Technology is anything that wasn’t around when you were born,” said Alan Kay, a US-based computer science pioneer credited with designing the Dynabook — the basis for all modern-day tablets and laptops — in the early 1970s.
Try remembering the time when you held your first mobile phone. Did you realise what the device was going to offer you in the years to come? While the smartphone technology is entering a new era of innovation, the time is here to wear your smartphone on wrist.
Flexible displays or foldable, bendable smartphones are the future and last week, Chinese technology major Lenovo became the first company to display two futuristic concepts: a foldable smartphone that can be turned into a wearable device and a bendable tablet that becomes a phablet.
Sounds cool but when it comes to smartphones, India is where the action is. With over 220 million active unique smartphone users, India is now the world’s second-biggest smartphone market after the US. By 2019, India will have over 650 million smartphone users, says a latest forecast by the networking solutions firm Cisco.
Is India ready for such foldable technology?
“I believe convertibles emerged a bit ahead of the users’ acceptability of such devices. Now, we have a bit evolved scenario and can say that the Indian consumers are ready for them,” says Faisal Kawoosa, Lead Analyst with CyberMedia Research (CMR), a market research firm.
“Flexible displays are the future and there is no doubt about it. However, these will first be available in the high-premium segment and address a selected audience to begin with,” Kawoosa told .
The Lenovo CPlus smartphone and Folio tablet concepts — shown at the “Tech World 2016” event in San Francisco last week — highlight how flexible screens and components can enable dual-devices and multiple usage scenarios like never before.
Apart from Lenovo, Korean smartphone-maker Samsung has been working on foldable displays for years and is reported to be ready to launch its first foldable smartphone in 2017. Cupertino, California-based tech giant, has also gone for patents that suggest it is set to develop iPhones with curved screens soon.
“These devices are going to be in the unique luxury gadgets category and will have niche adoptions. The innovation around smartphone is plateauing now,” adds Thomas George, Senior Vice President and Head of CMR.
The foldable smartphones are being talked about at a time when wearable smart watches are beginning to gain some grounds globally.
Will bendable smartphones kill their prospects?
“There will be a level of cannibalisation with regard to each of these ‘smart devices’. We have seen eight-inch tablets being used in place of smartphones in India,” notes Kawoosa.
“Users’ behaviour is unpredictable at times. So, yes, there will be overlapping but each of these ‘smart devices’ categories will exist and have their own pies to pursue,” he adds.
Foldable smartphones do not mean flip phones of the past or phones with two separate displays. These smartphones with flexible OLED screens can be folded without harming the device.
“These devices are certainly the future. In the case of India, what will matter finally is the cost and longevity to ensure that continuous bending of the device doesn’t affect the display and user interface in any way,” Vishal Tripathi, Research Director at global market consultancy firm Gartner, told .
While jury is still out on this debate, there will be different form factors for different segment of consumers.
“Wearable smartphones will coexist with wearable smart watches,” adds George.
According to Douglas Adams, author of the famous “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” series, “We are stuck with technology when what we really want is just stuff that works.”
But this doesn’t appear to be the case in the ever-evolving world of smartphones.