The Advent of Foldable Displays: Is Smartphone Ecosystem Ready?

Samsung and Royole have announced foldable OLED displays. Other manufacturers including, LG, Sharp and BOE are also readying foldable displays for launch. Foldable displays can be bent or folded, opening the possibility of innovative new mobile platforms. Two possible form factors include:

  1. A two-screen device that can start with a smaller screen and expand into a larger screen when unfolded (“screen continuity” feature).
  2. A device with a foldable screen which activates when unfolded.

This innovation creates a new user experience, while roughly retaining smartphone-like dimensions. There are several challenges to be overcome by phone manufacturers before there is mass adoption of the technology:

  • Usability: smartphones are designed for one-handed use. This factor has been fundamental in determining the overall external dimensions of a smartphone and why, for example, bezels have become slimmer as smartphone designers have sought to maximize the screen size while retaining compact external dimensions. Small form factor PCs and tablet devices are difficult to use while on the move; most usage is made while seated. Foldable smartphones will likely create some usability issues that, if not properly addressed, will fail from an ergonomics perspective.
  • Cost: Flexible OLED displays have been showcased by many manufacturers for the past few years, but a commercial launch is yet to happen. A limited supply will affect the potential scale of production. The display is a major component in a smartphone, accounting for as much as 30% of the Bill of Materials (BOM) cost in a premium smartphone, therefore, higher display prices will directly affect the cost of the smartphone or impact profitability.
  • Aspect Ratio: There is no standard aspect ratio or display size finalized across manufacturers. Apps running on the devices need to be optimized separately for better user experience. In many cases, a new user interface design will be needed to provide an optimal experience.
  • Bulk: Consumers have become used to slim smartphones with greater than 6” screens. Larger screen devices such as tablets have been suffering as consumers have shifted tablet use patterns to smartphones. Early foldable smartphones are likely to be much bulkier than slab-style devices. It is questionable whether consumers will perceive sufficient value in the folding form-factor to tolerate the inevitable compromises they will have to make in cost and convenience.
  • 5G Factor: The 5G race is also on and we expect to see many premium smartphones with 5G technology launching in 2019. 5G brings with it additional design challenges that will occupy many OEMs’ design teams, for example, complex antenna design. Antenna performance is very sensitive to placement and other structures within the handset. Folding form factor devices will introduce additional complexities in antenna design and placement. though this not confined solely to 5G.
  • Power: larger displays will need a larger battery. This brings with it design penalties such as device thickness. Therefore, OEMs need to find an acceptable balance between performance and battery life in foldable devices.
  • Android ecosystem readiness: Many of the apps have only been designed to work on 4” to 6.5” display devices and prevailing aspect ratios. The good news is that most developers of the popular apps are pushing regular updates by incorporating new features. In line with Android Version Distribution, most of the apps support devices running an older version of Android. For an example, more than 80% of the Apps still support Android devices running on KitKat. This shows the flexibility Android app development platform will help Google to push new API updates.

App Support by Android Versions

Source: Google App Store, Counterpoint Analysis, Sep 2018

Looking forward:

  • Foldable displays have a lot of potentials and can be included in smart devices including smartphone and wearables. However, final adoption will be shaped by the benefits offered and the usability. Once the ecosystem matures, foldable displays can eventually replace bigger phablet phones and tablet devices.
  • The initial adoption will be limited to a few models in the premium smartphone segment in 2019 and price diffusion to lower price tier will take substantially more time than any of the other recent new features. This is due to the higher costs of the displays and limited availability.
  • For app developers, foldable devices present an opportunity to create new user experiences, though the business opportunity will remain small for quite a long time.
  • Additionally, Android’s multi-tasking abilities will push some developers to create new UX designs in partnership with other apps. However, the dynamic user interface will bring multiple usability challenges and a greater chance of app collisions, general clunkiness and unhappy end users.
  • The foldable display is one aspect, however, other technology innovations like the introduction of 5G will also drive new use cases. However, final user purchase behaviour will be shaped by the different factors including technology innovation, user experience, use cases as well plain old economics.

Full report is available in our insight portal for subscribed clients: Here

Counterpoint research is a young and fast growing research firm covering analysis of the tech industry. Coverage areas are connected devices, digital consumer goods, software & applications and other adjacent topics. We provide syndicated research reports as well as tailored. Our seminars and workshops for companies and institutions are popular and available on demand. Consulting and customized work on the above topics is provided for high precision projects.

Term of Use and Privacy Policy

Counterpoint Technology Market Research Limited


In order to access Counterpoint Technology Market Research Limited (Company or We hereafter) Web sites, you may be asked to complete a registration form. You are required to provide contact information which is used to enhance the user experience and determine whether you are a paid subscriber or not.
Personal Information When you register on we ask you for personal information. We use this information to provide you with the best advice and highest-quality service as well as with offers that we think are relevant to you. We may also contact you regarding a Web site problem or other customer service-related issues. We do not sell, share or rent personal information about you collected on Company Web sites.

How to unsubscribe and Termination

You may request to terminate your account or unsubscribe to any email subscriptions or mailing lists at any time. In accessing and using this Website, User agrees to comply with all applicable laws and agrees not to take any action that would compromise the security or viability of this Website. The Company may terminate User’s access to this Website at any time for any reason. The terms hereunder regarding Accuracy of Information and Third Party Rights shall survive termination.

Website Content and Copyright

This Website is the property of Counterpoint and is protected by international copyright law and conventions. We grant users the right to access and use the Website, so long as such use is for internal information purposes, and User does not alter, copy, disseminate, redistribute or republish any content or feature of this Website. User acknowledges that access to and use of this Website is subject to these TERMS OF USE and any expanded access or use must be approved in writing by the Company.
– Passwords are for user’s individual use
– Passwords may not be shared with others
– Users may not store documents in shared folders.
– Users may not redistribute documents to non-users unless otherwise stated in their contract terms.

Changes or Updates to the Website

The Company reserves the right to change, update or discontinue any aspect of this Website at any time without notice. Your continued use of the Website after any such change constitutes your agreement to these TERMS OF USE, as modified.
Accuracy of Information: While the information contained on this Website has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable, We disclaims all warranties as to the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of such information. User assumes sole responsibility for the use it makes of this Website to achieve his/her intended results.

Third Party Links: This Website may contain links to other third party websites, which are provided as additional resources for the convenience of Users. We do not endorse, sponsor or accept any responsibility for these third party websites, User agrees to direct any concerns relating to these third party websites to the relevant website administrator.

Cookies and Tracking

We may monitor how you use our Web sites. It is used solely for purposes of enabling us to provide you with a personalized Web site experience.
This data may also be used in the aggregate, to identify appropriate product offerings and subscription plans.
Cookies may be set in order to identify you and determine your access privileges. Cookies are simply identifiers. You have the ability to delete cookie files from your hard disk drive.