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Canalys: Foldable shipments could 'exceed 30 million by 2024'

Saviour of the premium Android smartphone?

Canalys has peered into the channel crystal ball once again and forecast that foldable smartphone shipments will surpass 30 million by 2024.

To put that figure in context, last month the analyst confirmed that 363 million smartphones were shipped in Q4 2021, up just 1 per cent year-on-year, but for the whole of 2021 sales grew 7 per cent to 1.37 billion.

Foldables have relatively high price tags and with consumers (particularly Android fans) pondering why they should drop substantial amounts of cash on a smartphone, vendors have been looking for The Next Big Thing to tempt early adopters and buyers in the premium sector.

One device category targeted is foldables, which were initially seen as a ridiculously priced technical curiosity.

"The key catalyst for foldable smartphones has been the booming use of large-screen devices during the pandemic," said Runar Bjørhovde, research analyst at Canalys. Driven largely by Samsung, foldable smartphone shipments hit 8.9 million in 2021, a 148 per cent increase.

The foldable form didn't get off to the most auspicious of starts, with Samsung's high profile review model being pulled apart by critics. Samsung lowered the prices last year in a bid to give the latest device wider appeal.

Canalys says Android handset makers are under immense price pressure: sales of Android phones in the $800+ tier shrunk 18 per cent between the close of 2021 and the end of 2019, while iOS shipments grew 68 per cent during that period.

Amber Liu, research analyst at Canalys, said: "The real battlefield for device vendors is the software user experience, which requires substantial investment in the user interface and capable software as the foldable app ecosystem is still far from optimal.

"We expect this year will see many new foldable device launches as vendors continue reducing thickness, weight and price, which will be vital for mass-market adoption."

There is indeed quite a way to go. We had a play with Samsung's latest folding phone at a recent event organised by the vendor, and while the tech was undoubtedly nifty, we're not sure it was elevated above the status of neat gimmick.

A few more confidence-building years to prove that screens won't crease or crack, a few Android updates to add foldable features, along with the inevitable downward push on prices and that 30 million niche might just be achievable. Unless Apple "invents" a foldable of its own. ®

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