Do foldable phones represent the wave of the future or are they merely symptomatic of a smartphone market that has largely become stagnant? Put differently, there’s a case to be made that smartphones updates have become so predictable and, dare I say, boring, that we’ve started to attach lofty expectations to foldable phones despite a considerable number of drawbacks. If we’re being honest, many of the foldable smartphone designs we’ve seen to date appear to be unpolished prototypes at best, if not downright clunky.
The recently unveiled Galaxy Fold from Samsung is particularly uninspiring, though the Huawei Mate X does seem to offer up a more compelling industrial design. Nonetheless, a new report from Digitimes reveals that folks eager to get their hands on these two may have to wait a while.
Digitimes points out that the hinges on foldable smartphones are uniquely hard to manufacture at scale. The reason? They need to be upwards of 10x stronger than the hinges used on laptops due to how often they’re opened and closed. Compounding matters is that the hinges also have to be thinner than those on laptops in the interest of keeping the form factor somewhat thin and usable.
Consequently, there’s a possibility that “volume production” of suitable hinges for foldable smartphones may not commence until 2020.
The report reads in part:
While smartphone vendors may adopt different folding technologies for their foldable models – such as in-folding design used by Samsung, out-folding by most of China’s vendors and the latest Z-folding method proposed by Google – the design of hinges for foldable smartphones bear no major difference regardless of the use of folding technology, said the sources.
To meet stringent quality requirement, hinges needed for the production of foldable smartphones mostly have to be made by MIM (metal injection molding) technology, noted the sources, adding that hinge makers may have to increase their investments on furnaces to ramp up their capacity to meet increasing demand.
So while both the Samsung Galaxy Fold and Huawei Mate X are slated to launch later this year, it’s starting to look like both devices will be in extremely short supply for at least a few good months after hitting store shelves.