The foldable smartphone market is growing steadily, and market research firm TrendForce estimates that OEMs will ship a combined 18.5 million foldable phones this year, up from 12.8 million in 2022. Samsung has an 82% market share and will maintain the lead in 2023. The company will also continue to dictate the tone of foldable hinge designs in 2023 and may continue to develop U-shaped hinges for several reasons.
The foldable phone hinge market has become huge, and market watchers estimate that the value of this segment will increase by 14.6% year-on-year to exceed $500 million in 2023. Given Samsung’s popularity in the foldable phone segment, the company will shape the future of hinge designs.
At present, the foldable hinge market is split into two categories: U-shaped and teardrop-shaped. These designations are based on the shape of the foldable display above the hinge when the device is folded shut. A U-shaped hinge (like the one used by the Galaxy Z Fold series) creates a gap between the two folding halves. The teardrop hinge doesn’t have this issue, but it has the disadvantage of a higher cost.
According to another recent report, the Galaxy Z Fold 5 will adopt a teardrop hinge and thus become thinner in the process, all the while eliminating the space between the two folding halves of the phone. Nevertheless, TrendForce estimates that Samsung is not yet ready to give up on the existing U-shaped hinge entirely. And there seem to be good reasons for this.
Making foldable phones more affordable is Samsung’s top priority
Foldable phones that exist in a vacuum and don’t get purchased by customers are essentially vaporware. They’re nice to look at and report on, but they don’t actually bring any value to the foldable phone market and prospective customers.
And the reality of the situation is that U-shaped hinges are more affordable than teardrop-shaped hinges. Affordability is one of the main aspects Samsung is has tried to improve for its foldable phones for the past few years, because if nobody buys foldables, then the whole segment is in big trouble.
With that in mind, Samsung may switch to a teardrop-shaped hinge for the Galaxy Z Fold 5 (its true foldable flagship), but it may continue using the U-shaped hinge for the Galaxy Z Flip 5 to maintain low costs and profitability. Market watchers believe that Samsung is trying to maintain a healthy profit margin and make foldable phones more popular while capturing a large slice of the entry-level segment.
Or in other words, the company could easily switch to a teardrop-shaped hinge across its entire foldable lineup, but there are great risks to doing so. Although this switch would look good in the eyes of the media and in marketing materials, this approach would increase prices, hurt sales, and ultimately decrease the popularity of foldable phones globally.
Analysts believe that Samsung is trying to walk a fine line between cutting-edge technology and affordability, and this strategy appears to have worked so far. The company holds the biggest slice of the foldable market, after all.
In addition, market watchers estimate that Samsung will try to add more hinge manufacturers to its chain this year, in addition to KH Vatech and S-connect, hoping to lower prices and diversify its supply chain. Samsung is also trying to decrease costs by cutting down the number of hinge parts and through Tier-2 outsourcing.