TCL's Plans To Disrupt The Folding Phone Market Have Sadly Been Put On Hold
Based on past prototypes it showed off, TCL had the potential to shake up the folding phone market in a major way, bringing some interesting competition to the likes of Samsung with its Galaxy Z Flip and Galaxy Z Fold product lines. And perhaps TCL still will make a splash. However, it will not be this year, and probably not next year as well.
TCL's chief marketing officer, Stefan Streit, put out a statement saying the company made the "difficult decision to suspend the launch of its first commercially available foldable smartphone." There's no mention of exactly how long the plans are being put on hold, just that TCL won't pursue the market until the technology comes in down price.
Here is the statement in full...
"In recent years, TCL has invested billions of dollars into the research and development of new and upcoming display technologies, including flexible displays and foldable smartphones.
Although the foldable market is growing each year, it is still a premium product category. In combination with recent component shortages, the COVID-19 pandemic and rising costs in foldable production, TCL has made the difficult decision to suspend the launch of its first commercially available foldable smartphone until the company can produce and bring it to market at a price point that's accessible to as many consumers as possible.
TCL remains committed to investing in flexible display technologies and is closely monitoring the market to determine the best time to launch a foldable smartphone. In the meantime, we continue to focus on our "5G for All" initiative introduced at Mobile World Congress 2021, in which we work with carriers around the world to deliver 5G solutions to all consumers across a variety of price points and product categories." - TCL CMO Stefan Streit
Folding smartphones got off to a bit of a rocky start when its nearly $2,000 Galaxy Fold device stumbled out of the gate with design issues. At the time, Samsung's then-CEO DJ Koh call it an "embarrassing" launch, admitting the company "pushed it through before it was ready."
Things have improved quite a bit since then, and pricing has come down too, though folding phones for the most part still reside in premium pricing territory.
TCL was set to throw its hat in the ring with a promising handset dubbed Project Chicago, which is said to have less of a crease than Samsung's Galaxy Z Flip 3. However, TCL was apparently on the fence about its folding phone plans, and the Galaxy Z Flip 3 launch sealed the deal.
In comments made to CNET, Streit explained that TCL's lowering pricing essentially wouldn't matter at the premium tier.
"If somebody can spend $800, he can also spend $1,000. Probably, he will go for the brand he knows for many years and trusts more," Streit said.
On the bright side, Streit also indicated that TCL still very much believes in the folding form factor, and that he personally uses Project Chicago on a daily basis. But it is not a handset that will ever see the light of day. Instead, he anticipates TCL offering a new and more affordable offering late next year or sometime in 2023.
Here's hoping it happens. Beyond Project Chicago, TCL had some interesting concepts it showed off in the past, like its Fold 'N Roll that can morph from a smartphone into a phablet, and then stretch out even more into a 10-inch tablet.