The foldable phone will reportedly be with us next month

It’s been rumoured for months and an ambition of the industry for years, but it seems Samsung is almost ready to unveil a foldable phone in a few weeks times.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Samsung is set to reveal a foldable phone at various launch events around the world on February 20, a week ahead of the industry’s annual bonanza in Barcelona. Traditionally Samsung has launched new flagship devices at Mobile World Congress, but it appears the team is determined to beat Huawei to the punch, with the Chinese also rumoured to be pretty close with their own device.

Although Samsung still claims the number one spot for smartphone sales worldwide, it must be peering over its shoulder with Huawei’s recent momentum. Having overtaken Apple to secure the number two spot, Huawei is certainly on a good run, despite political pressure and suspicion over its relationship with the Chinese government.

A prototype of the device was showcased at a series of events last September, though people familiar with the matter claim three new, foldable devices will be hitting the shelves in March. There is yet to be any form of official confirmation as of yet, though it is also believed a fourth device will follow the initial launch; this model will be 5G compatible.

There are still a lot of questions surrounding the device, but one thing is clear; this is the sort of innovation the industry has been craving for years.

When you look at the reality of smartphones, there hasn’t been any genuine disruption for years. Each new flagship brings incremental advances in features and usability, a better screen or less battery intensive applications for example, but nothing could really be described as ground-breaking, despite what the manufacturers tell you. The last genuine disruption to the smartphone space was probably Apple ditching the keyboard a decade ago.

This stumbling period of innovation is probably one of the factors which contributed to the global slump in smartphone sales in recent years. Despite a lack of new features, manufacturers have been asking consumers to produce more cash, indirectly encouraging trends which have seen product lifecycles and the popularity of second-hand or refurbished phones increase.

Whether the phone will be any good remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure, this is a device which will certainly attract attention at Mobile World Congress next month.

Huawei’s search for smartphone differentiation yields rewards

The smartphone market is a very difficult one in which to create any form of differentiation, but Huawei has done a pretty good job with the launch of its new Mate 20 series.

While Samsung and Apple are now leaning towards brand identity and story-telling to attract new customers, a strategy the iLeader is a master of, Huawei is continuing to search for differentiation on the product side. The launch was glitzy, packed to the rafters and full of new features, some of which were genuinely appealing.

“Smartphones are an important entrance to the digital world,” said Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei’s Consumer business group. “The Huawei Mate 20 series is designed to be the best ‘mate’ of consumers, accompanying and empowering them to enjoy a richer, more fulfilled life with their higher intelligence, unparalleled battery lives and powerful camera performance”

Looking at the features, the devices will be powered by Huawei’s AI chip, the Kirin 980, which incorporates the Cortex-A76-based CPU and Mali-G76 GPU. The promise is a smoother and more powerful experience compared to competitors, with Huawei claiming the CPU is up to 58% more efficient, GPU up 178% more efficient, and the NPU 182%. The devices also includes a 4200mAh battery, with Yu promising 11.21 hours of battery life for heavy users, and the ability to recharge the device to 70% within 30 minutes.

On the camera side, this is an area which will form one of the central marketing pillars for the device and was a big deal in the eyes of Yu. With the incorporation of a 16mm Leica Ultra-wide Angle Lens, the team are boasting about superior wide angle shots, but also numerous other advantages including crisp images of objects that are placed as close as 2.5cm from the lens and AI Portrait Colour video mode. This was a massive deal during the launch so expect photography to feature very heavily in marketing efforts over the coming months.

Audience

While this all sounds promising, this is nothing new compared to the devices of yesteryear, just an upgrade. We’re going to focus on two features which are genuinely interesting.

Looking at the battery, not only will the device introduce wireless charging to the Mate series, Yu introduced the concept of reverse charging. For those who have nervously looked at their devices lurking at 5%, while carefree others prance around north of 80% battery, this could be a very useful feature. Mate 20 devices will be able to act as an energy pack for devices which also support reverse charging. For the moment, we suspect there will be a very small number of compatible devices, but it is a very useful feature.

With the screen reaching the limits of how big it can be, performance speeds only incrementally improving and the camera on every device being top of the range, the battery is an aspect of the phone which could lead to future differentiation. Little progress has been made to improve the battery in recent years, at least little in comparison to other aspects, but the reverse charging feature is certainly a good start.

The second feature which caught our attention was the introduction of EMUI 9, a smart operating system based on Android P. Should it live up to the promise, EMUI 9 can optimise the performance of the phone to the user, introduces new gesture navigation and also unveils a number of new AI features. Some of these applications are quirky, such as the calorie counter, but the 3D Live Object Modelling is very cool.

Using the devices camera, users can scan an object in the digital world, a soft-toy panda was used during the demo, before a digital avatar is created on the device. The avatar can interact with the physical world and also new users which enter the screen. The video below was produced on-stage during the launch. It is genuine augmented reality, not the charlatan created by Pokémon Go. Once created, the avatar will be available to use in films created by the user.

The only downside to all of these wonderful new features is the price. Starting at €800 and heading north for the more advanced models, this is not a cheap device. The Huawei team has already seen what it competitors can get away with and it appears to be following suit. Despite the small mortgage required to purchase the device, this is a pretty good launch and a device which provides some genuine differentiation.