When “mobile” phones were first invented, they were so large and cumbersome that they needed to be carried in a briefcase, or wired to a car. As technology improved, consumers wanted phones that were more transportable, driving the industry to create smaller and smaller cell phones which eventually resulted in the development of the flip phone during the mid-nineties. A decade later, in 2007, the iPhone was released and changed the shape of cell phones and the landscape of the phone market. 

Due to the fact that previous phones had served primarily the function of calling, there wasn’t much need for a large display. However, with the advent of the first smartphones, which took the functionality of the phone and combined it with the PDA, consumers wanted to be able to view more at once. Due to the fact that the iPhone had a touchscreen, the phone couldn’t be made as a foldable, compact design and the modern phone shape was born. The trend then shifted from phones becoming smaller and smaller, to suddenly getting larger and larger, as seen with the rise of the “phablet,” a portmanteau of “phone” and “tablet” due to their excessive size. 

Yet, the market may have overcorrected since many consumers now are searching for a smaller, sleeker design that fits easily into their pockets. Nevertheless, at the same time, consumers have grown accustomed to large displays and don’t want to give them up. This has prompted companies such as Samsung and Motorola to develop what they’re calling “foldables.” Some of these phones have two screens that, when unfolded, create a tablet-sized screen, and when closed have a second outer touchscreen that functions like a regular phone. Other devices look more similar to the flip phones of the early 2000’s, with a small display on the outside to show the time or notifications, but when unfolded reveal a standard sized smartphone screen. 

As with any new designs, these foldables have received mixed reviews. To begin with, foldable phones aren’t something that were demanded by the population at large, unlike previous advances in smart phone technology, such as longer lasting batteries, high definition displays, and more responsive touch screens. Additionally, these foldables all rely on hinges, which adds a component beyond the screen that could break or wear out with excessive use. 

One of the main benefits of the larger screen is the ability to multitask, with some models able to have three windows open at once. Aesthetically, however, foldable displays have a visible crease when opened all the way, making their use much less attractive than a standard tablet and distracting from media such as videos or games. On top of this, foldable displays mean that the screens need to be made from a flexible OLED which allows them to bend, but also means there are sacrifices to the hardness of the display and that the display isn’t covered with protective glass. 

One of the main obstacles to overcome is that because the phones need to be usable when folded or unfolded, designing a case or phone cover is proving to be infeasible. Even with all this in mind, however, the largest obstacle currently faced by foldables is the price tag, which can range from $1,400 to more than $2,400, a dealbreaker to many consumers.