Welcome to the world of folding phones

The foldable phones are coming, that much we can all agree on.

Multiple manufacturers have announced their intentions to produce a folding device, Google is building support for them into Android, and we’ve even seen the first such phone actually make its way to market in China.

At Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona next month, rumors suggest more announcements are in store from companies ranging from Huawei to Motorola and even Oppo.

But outside of an implicit agreement that folding phones are going to happen, there’s close to no consensus about what the best form for them actually is. Through various early teases, announcements, and patent filings, we’ve seen a range of different form-factors proposed. Ask four different manufacturers what form their folding phone will take, and you’ll get four very different answers.

For technology fans, that’s a very good thing. 2018 was the year when practically every phone manufacturer converged on notched displays as the de facto design standard. But by eliminating their distinctive bezels, almost every phone ended up looking identical.

At the same time, phones converged from a design standpoint. 2018 also saw the phone industry hit an inevitable technology plateau. Phones became “good enough” and newer devices have increasingly little to offer.

Folding phones change all of this. They’re new, they look like something out of a science fiction movie, and companies actually seem willing to experiment with designs that are different from 90 per cent of their competitors.