Are Foldable Devices the Next Big Thing, or a Passing Fad?
Unless app makers can find a way to deliver real value, foldables might be just another solution in search of a problem
Foldable devices are all over the news these days. Some are based on actual foldable displays (Samsung, Huawei), others are more economic and use two separate panels rotating around a 360-degree hinge (LG, Motorola, Microsoft).
Regardless of the underlying implementation, the purported use cases are similar: run two apps side-by-side or let an app use extra screen real estate when available.
Their makers tout them as the future of mobile productivity, the must-have upgrade for your aging smartphone. The main question for software makers is a bit different, though: Are foldables the future, or just a passing fad?
This is an important question to consider, as we need to decide whether to use precious resources to investigate this form factor and its effect on our products.
In order to answer it, we need to digress a bit and see how we got to the current state of affairs in mobile development.
The physical design of mobile devices hasn’t changed much for the past 10 years. Almost all manufacturers have settled on the form factor introduced by Apple with the iPhone in 2007 (and the iPad in 2010, on the tablet side) with little variation on the theme. Granted, there has been a certain degree of differentiation in details such as the placement of cameras and biometric sensors, and, of course, the deliberate selection of materials and components to justify different price points, but in the end, all modern mobile devices look pretty much the same: a rectangular slate largely dominated by a touch screen, running either of the two dominating operating systems — iOS and Android.
In terms of software, ecosystem-specifics aside, there isn’t really much reason for the end user to choose one platform over the other. Most apps and games are available on both, with pretty much the same functionality. The operating systems themselves have been converging in user experience too, with the once unique benefits of widgets (Android) and coherent…