Consumers Are (Kind Of) Flipping Out For Foldable Phones, Will Apple Join The Party?

Half-folded Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 in front of several other foldables.
While the foldable form factor for smartphones got off to a rocky start several years ago, it is finally starting to hit its stride, thanks to a continued push by Samsung and competitors like Google, Huawei, and others. The form factor is still comparatively niche (versus standard smartphone designs), sure. However, consumers are starting to take notice with foldable phone shipments exploding last year, albeit with a caveat.

According to TrendForce, foldable phone shipments around the globe swelled to 15.9 million units last year, which equates to a seemingly remarkable 25% year-over-year growth rate. That's certainly impressive, but the caveat is that it's just a sliver (a mere 1.4%) of the overall smartphone market.

Looking ahead, TrendForce says the market for foldable phones is expected to increase 11% to 17.7 million units, which again is an impressive double-digit percentage jump. But that would only bump the form factor's overall share of the smartphone market to 1.5%.

Here's the tricky part—while consumers are flipping out for foldables compared to past years (25% and 11% gains are nothing to scoff at), the growth rate is still below market expectations. Even more concerning, customer retention and confidence in the form factor by first-time foldable buyers are low due to "frequent maintenance issues," which is apparently "leading to a lack of confidence" in folding smartphones.

TrendForce also notes that costs have not yet hit the sweet spot, "making it challenging to meet sales targets based solely on pricing." However, there's a silver lining as it pertains to pricing.

"An increase in foldable panel shipments by Chinese panel makers—who offer a price advantage over Korean suppliers—is expected to further lower the cost of foldable phones. This would enable brands to reduce sale prices and accelerate market penetration rates," TrendForce says.

More affordable options in the foldable smartphone space could go a long way towards offsetting concerns about the form factor as a whole. It might also entice Apple to jump into the fold (pun intended), which has been tied to foldable rumors in the past (notably, a folding iPad).

"While numerous smartphone brands are diving into the foldable phone arena, one notable absentee is Apple, which has yet to formally announce its plans for foldable's widely anticipated that Apple's potential entry into the foldable phone market could significantly spur market growth," TrendForce notes.

Chart of folding smartphone market share by brand.

Apple's foray into foldables remains uncertain, however, so we'll have to wait and see. Meanwhile, Samsung remains the biggest player with a 60% share of the foldable market, though competition is heating up. That figure is down from 80% in 2022. Huawei is its biggest rival in terms of share (19.8%), followed by Xiaomi (5.4%) and all others (14.5%), including Google. Note there's sound rounding off in those figures, as they add up to 99.7%.