Huawei has finalized the core research and development aspects of its foldable smartphone project and has already pitched the device to wireless carriers in South Korea, local media reports. The network operators are understood to have been surprised by the development as the industry expected Huawei to present a prototype, not a pitch for a finalized device. A Huawei official confirmed the move but declined to comment on the specifics of the company's first foldable handset with 5G capabilities.
Unofficially, the gadget is said to be using a bendable display from Chinese panel manufacturer BOE. When folded, the screen is reportedly some five inches in size and goes up to eight inches when folded out. Those dimensions are larger than the expected size of Samsung's bendable handset that the South Korean company teased earlier this month - the Galaxy-branded device is said to be a 4.6-inch affair when folded and have a 7.3-inch screen in its unfolded state. Huawei, Samsung's largest rival next to Apple, will be officially announcing its first bendable Android handset at the next iteration of Mobile World Congress which is kicking off in late February in Barcelona, Spain, industry sources claim. The device is hence expected to become available for purchase by mid-2019, though it likely won't be retailed globally, especially given how 5G will be one of its main selling points and the next generation of wireless connectivity won't have any significant coverage prior to 2020.
Background: The main reason why Huawei first pitched its unconventional gadget to carriers is South Korea is closely related to the fact that the Far Eastern country is among the leading economies in terms of 5G R&D and may end up being the first to achieve large-scale 5G coverage, according to numerous analyst forecasts and Seoul's own recent statements on its wireless ambitions. That may not be enough for the local industry to embrace the company's proposal as the Korean government is currently pondering the idea of banning the firm from participating in its 5G rollouts outright due to national security reasons. The Shenzhen-based company, also the world's largest manufacturer of telecom equipment, argued there are no reasons for its 5G hardware to be rejected by South Korea last month, maintaining it never gave the local government any reason to believe its infrastructure is a national security risk. Still, with mounting pressure from Seoul's allies such as the U.S. and Australia, both of whom already essentially banned Huawei from their 5G projects, the country may still follow suit.
The current state of affairs suggests Huawei has little chance of competing with other 5G phone makers on equal grounds, at least in South Korea, which may be a large part of the reason why it's doubling down on its innovation efforts and also wants to deliver its first 5G handset in the form of a foldable device. That product strategy has already been outlined by the company's rotating Chairman Ken Hu in September at this year's edition of the World Economic Forum. However, the official didn't clarify whether the device in question will also be the firm's first-ever bendable device, which remains a possibility seeing how previous reports suggested Huawei is pursuing several foldable form factors and may end up commercializing more than one. The Chinese company has been working on a bendable Android smartphone for over a year now, according to previous claims from industry insiders. It even considered releasing a two-screen device akin to the ZTE Axon M around the time that booklet-like gadget was released in 2017 but ended up deciding against the idea as it wanted to refine the concept before offering it to consumers, company officials said earlier this year.
Samsung is positioned to be Huawei's only rival in the early foldable phone space as all other manufacturers are said to be significantly behind the two companies in their efforts to commercialize such devices. The Seoul-based technology juggernaut already unveiled its "Infinity Flex" display earlier this month and is expected to implement it into a consumer-grade product that will be announced in the first quarter of 2019, most likely at the next iteration of MWC. Both Samsung and Huawei's seminal foldable gadgets are expected to be priced at well above $1,000 due to their high manufacturing costs. That state of affairs will likely see the two devices advertised exclusively to tech enthusiasts, with industry analysts remaining divided on how soon could such gadgets enter the mainstream price bracket.
Huawei's first foldable device may resemble the Mate 20 X, an Android flagship the company announced last month, describing it as a phablet designed for high-end mobile gaming experiences. That theory is largely based on the fact that Huawei consumer business chief Richard Yu recently related the release of the Mate 20 X as a crucial step on the firm's road toward the release of its first foldable device. The handset in question is one of the largest ones ever released, featuring a 7.2-inch screen. The Mate 20 X connection is not the only recent occasion on which foldable handsets were related to mobile gaming. Several months back, industry insiders claimed Samsung will be advertising its first bendable Android smartphone to gamers as well, speculating how that demographic may be willing to commit extra money to such innovative technologies due to their established tendency to spend more on handsets in general.
Impact: Huawei's latest innovation efforts in the mobile segment may not result in the world's first foldable handset but will likely lead to the first bendable phone with 5G capabilities. Even as Samsung is positioned to be the pioneer in the segment, Huawei may give it a run for its money with a more value-oriented device, or at least one that will have it beat on the connectivity front. While foldable handsets are unlikely to achieve mainstream success in the immediate future, the industry's growing focus on such gadgets indicates that the bendable form factor isn't just coming soon but will be here to stay. The only question that remains is how soon will manufacturers be able to deliver foldable handsets — Android and otherwise — at a relatively affordable price point.