28 January 2020
Foldable devices could help rejuvenate the slowing global smartphone market. Photo: Bloomberg
Foldable devices could help rejuvenate the slowing global smartphone market. Photo: Bloomberg

OLED makers likely winners amid the foldable phone trend

Handset makers have unveiled new foldable devices, breathing fresh air into the languishing smartphone market.

Chinese tech giant Huawei’s Mate X has seemingly stood out from the crowd, as per initial market response.

All the smartphones with foldable screen (SFS) are basically one form or another of phones that unfold into larger-screened tablets. That means users can fold them and slip into pockets and handbags, and the larger screens would offer much better experience.

Apple launched the first iPhone in 2007. Since then, the new smartphone models have more or less the same, except for bigger screens, better cameras, etc. But now SFS is likely to change the way we use smartphones in the future.

So far, Huawei, Royole, Samsung and LG have officially unveiled their foldable phones. Huawei’s Mate X is in the lead in technology, according to various reviews on GadgetsNow and CNET. Most impressive was the way Mate X seamlessly swaps between screens, and the edge-to-edge screen works just like a tablet.

That’s because Mate X has adopted outwardly foldable design, which offers a sleek feel to the product. It has a folded thickness of a mere 11mm, and 5.4 mm in unfolded mode, thanks to ultrathin screens.

Combing Huawei’s 5G technology and Lecia camera, itt appears Mate X is set to steal the thunder in the foldable phone race.

Huawei is pricing the phone at US$2,600, making it the most expensive handset ever.

The price tag reflects the high production costs, but it might also be a strategy that positions it as a premium product to target customers seeking more unique phones for show-off purposes.

The foldable phone is all about screen technology. The Mate X has an 8-inch wraparound OLED display. Only a handful of companies have reached commercial production in foldable OLED display, including BOE Technology Group (000725.CN), O-film Tech (002456.CN), Royole, Samsung and LG.

It’s said that BOE Technology is responsible for manufacturing the screen for Mate X. That might explain why the share price of BOE has spiked 70 percent since January, and its market value already reached 153 billion yuan.

OLED suppliers might be the biggest winner in next couple of years if foldable phones continue to gain traction.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb 27

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal columnist