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Gartner squints into its crystal ball: A pholdable phuture is very far away

And they won't save the tanking device market in 2019

Gartner has predicted foldable phones will capture a puny 5 per cent of the flagship market by 2023.

"We remain very cautious, for different reasons," Roberta Cozza, research director at Gartner told us. "It will take several iterations before they are reliable and durable."

These reasons boil down to manufacturing, materials and software support.

"The manufacturing process is very complex – even with [strong] demand, they would find it very difficult to meet that demand," she added. "The material used for the display is plastic and plastics are very prone to scratches," she added.

The ecosystem of support is also in its infancy.

"The foldable is the holy grail of having 'the tablet being in your phone' – but you still need to show people the value of paying a premium for a foldable unit," said Cozza. "Features like app continuity that Samsung has showed – where the apps will need to be seamless across the screens. Those partners need to find ways to deliver something beneficial."

Overall, Gartner sees 2019 as a continuing year of decline in mature markets, but is more bullish about 2020. A bit but not much, for Gartner expects the average lifetime of a high-end smartphone to increase from 2.6 to 2.8 years, through 2023.

The reason for the slump is not just longer replacement life cycles, but a more "dynamic" mid-market.

"There are more vendors, more players and more brands here," Cozza pointed out. "The Chinese brands' cost structure has allowed them to offer at affordable prices some of the features you couldn't afford unless you bought an iPhone or Galaxy S."

"Users aren't replacing within that category – they don't feel the need, even if they can afford it, to pay the extra just to buy higher up in the tiers. They're happy to stay in the mid-range," she said, citing the example of Huawei's Honor brand scooping No.1 spot in the market in a number of European countries.

"If you look at the mid-range, there's everything you need there, and you don't need to pay £800 to £1,000."

Something, anything, needs to breathe new life into the smartmobe sector, because it is forecast to dip 0.5 per cent year on year to 1.802 billion units in 2019, grow to 1.824 billion in 2020 and shrink to 1.798 billion by 2021. In a market typified by a lack of differentiation, foldable devices are a fresh direction, albeit for the high-end purchaser.

"Users have reached a threshold for new technology and applications," said Cozza. "As a result, we expect the high-end mobile phone market to continue to show a decline in mature markets during 2019."

So far, Samsung and Huawei and some rivals have given brief flashes of their bendy handsets. Others are expected to follow suit to help "re-inject innovation" into the sector, said Gartner.

Cozza said foldables would remain niche for the next half a decade due to "several challenges" including a screen that may scratch more easily and price being seen as a "barrier" to wider adoption.

"Currently priced at $2,000, foldable phones present too many trade-offs, even for many early technology adopters," she said.

Entire device market down

According to that same forecast from Gartner, the world and its dog will purchase more than 12.5 million fewer devices in calendar '19 versus the prior year – and smartphones, traditional PCs and flaky consumer spending are the main reasons for this.

Shipments will dip by 0.56 per cent to 2.208 billion computers and mobile phones, though unit sales will rebound next year if – and it's a big if – the analyst is right.

Demand for traditional PCs is to wane, with 189.4 million boxes estimated to ship in 2019, down 3 per cent from 195.3 million. Ultra mobiles, however, will grow to 68.8 million, up from 64.47 million. This means the total PC market will shrink 0.55 per cent to 259.78 million units.

"For the eighth consecutive year, the PC market is at a standstill," said Gartner research director Ranjit Atwal.

"Consumers are increasingly retiring their PCs but not replacing them, with shipments down by around 6 million units in 2019. For businesses, the Windows 10 migration continues into the next phase."

Microsoft's latest OS has caused a computer refresh cycle since late 2017, fuelling enterprise spending. Atwal reckoned the US was now in the "final phase" of that spending pattern but other countries including China and Japan had delayed their migration.

"By moving the Windows 10 migration to 2020, organisations increase the risk of remaining on an unsupported operating systems. Windows 7 support is scheduled to end in January," he said.

Windows 10 will be running on 75 per cent of pro PCs in the commercial sector by 2021, Gartner has predicted. The other shout from the analyst is that foldable phones will represent 5 per cent of premium phone sales in 2023, equating to around 30 million units.

Device type 2018 2019 2020 2021
Traditional PCs (desk-based and notebook) 195.317 million 189.472 million 182.823 million 175.058 million
Ultramobiles (premium) 64.471 million 68.869 million 74.432 million 79.871 million
Total PC Market 259.787 million 258.341 million 257.255 million 254.929 million
Ultramobiles (basic and utility) 149.561 million 147.963 million 145.811 million 143.707 million
Computing device market 409.348 million 406.304 million 403.066 million 398.636 million
Mobile Phones 1,811.922 million 1,802.394 million 1,824.628 million 1,798.356 million
Total Device Market 2,221.270 million 2,208.697 million 2,227.694 million 2,196.992 million


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