May 12, 2023
SEOUL – US tech giant Google unveiled its first foldable smartphone, the Pixel Fold, at its annual I/O developer conference in California Wednesday, aiming to challenge the dominance of Samsung Electronics in the global market.
While Chinese smartphone makers such as Huawei, Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi have followed Samsung’s footsteps in launching foldable smartphones, Google has become the first major tech firm in the US to make an entry into the growing foldable market.
The Pixel Fold is set for a June release in four countries, including the US, the UK, Germany and Japan. South Korea is not on the list so far, according to Google. Since the company has no history of launching a smartphone in Korea, industry sources assume that Google’s first foldable phone is also less likely to be available here.
During Wednesday’s conference, Google touted its Pixel Fold as the “thinnest foldable on the market,” measuring 5.8 inches across and folding out into a 7.6-inch tablet. The 256-gigabyte variant of the device is priced at $1,799 in the US, matching the price for Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 4.
With the upcoming release of the Pixel Fold, competition between the two global IT giants has become inevitable. However, Samsung seems to welcome the competition.
During a press conference at the Mobile World Congress in Spain in February, Choi Won-joon, executive vice president and head of the mobile research and development office at Samsung’s Mobile eXperience division, said: “If more people experience foldable smartphones and the market grows, Samsung will benefit from it.”
Samsung has been leading the foldable smartphone market since it rolled out its first foldable device, the Galaxy Fold, in 2019. It has since expanded its lineup to the Galaxy Z Flip series. According to market research firm International Data Corp., the tech giant’s share of the foldable market stood at 79 percent at the end of last year.
Despite the stagnant smartphone market, global shipments of foldable phones have continued to grow. Data from market research firms Counterpoint Research and IDC showed 14.9 million foldable devices were shipped last year, accounting for 1.2 percent of overall global smartphone shipments.
This year’s shipments are expected to go up by 52.3 percent on-year to 22.7 million units. The foldable phone market is also forecast to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 27.6 percent through 2027, accounting for 3.5 percent of the entire smartphone market, according to the research firms.
Meanwhile, some market watchers expect the global foldable phone market to expand significantly with Apple’s entry.
Apple has already been awarded patents for a foldable device, but has yet to introduce a foldable iPhone or any device. While rumors have swirled around a foldable Apple device since 2016, market observers forecast that the iPhone maker will apply a foldable design to the iPad tablet first, instead of its flagship smartphones.
The global tech giant will start shipping foldable iPads in 2024, Taiwan-based TF International Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, known for his accurate Apple product launch predictions, said in a series of tweets.
“For the ecosystem of the foldable phone market to really grow, Apple has to make a bid for the competition. Although Google’s first foldable device release means something, the event is not sensational enough to drive the market,” an industry insider told The Korea Herald on condition of anonymity on Thursday.
“If (Google) decides not to launch its first foldable phone in Korea, Samsung’s home turf, it would indicate that it does not think it will catch on. … Samsung may pay attention to Google’s foldable push, but at the same time it won’t see the firm as a competitor (in the foldable phone market),” the source added.