Huawei is considering four distinct monikers for its first foldable Android smartphone, according to a number of newly emerged IP documents reviewed by AndroidHeadlines. The company’s unconventional device is planned to launch as part of the Mate phablet lineup, with the firm presently pondering the names Mate F, Mate Flex, Mate Flexi, and Mate Fold. The Chinese technology juggernaut already moved to trademark all four terms in several jurisdictions but it’s currently unclear which one of them is the front runner for the actual name of the incoming gadget. The answer to that question likely won’t be given prior to February, several weeks ahead of the expected announcement of the Huawei-made bendable smartphone.
Background: The fact that Huawei’s first foldable Android handset will be introduced as part of the Mate series dovetails with a recent theory that the device in question will resemble the Mate 20 X, a gaming-centric phablet the Shenzhen-based company launched just last month. While speaking at Huawei’s Paris product event held in early October, the CEO of the company’s consumer electronics unit, Mr. Richard Yu, pointed to the debut of the Mate 20 X as a significant step on the road toward the release of the firm’s first smartphone with a bendable display panel, prompting speculation that the said phablet will be used as a template for the seminal device. The Mate 20 X itself is one of the largest smartphones ever created, featuring a massive 7.2-inch screen that sacrifices portability for the sake of entertainment immersion. Naturally, if it was capable of folding in half, the panel would offer the best of both worlds.
Naming schemes aside, what’s currently known about the smartphone is that it will support mobile networks based on the 5G New Radio standard, though it may not be the first Huawei-made product to do so. The core research and development aspect of the project has already been completed and Huawei is presently in the process of pitching the unconventional Android smartphone to carriers, at least in South Korea, according to recent media reports. A number of industry insiders already claimed Huawei is aiming to officially announce the device at the next edition of Mobile World Congress, a Barcelona, Spain-based annual trade show traditionally taking place in late February and early March.
The Huawei-made foldable device is believed to be using a Super AMOLED module manufactured by Chinese panel maker BOE. The screen of the handset is said to be five inches in size when fully bent and around eight inches unfolded, which would make it larger than Samsung’s Infinity Flex module that’s rumored to be a 4.6-inch affair going up to a 7.3-inch diagonal. Samsung itself is also understood to be targeting MWC 2019 as the launch venue for its first foldable smartphone, though neither its gadget nor Huawei’s competitor are expected to become available for purchase prior to mid-2019. However, unlike Huawei, Samsung will almost certainly be retailing its bendable handset on a global level, seeking to use it as more of a tool for advertising its bleeding-edge innovation efforts than a mainstream product, several insiders claimed over the course of this year. The main reason why neither Samsung nor Huawei expects significant commercial success from their first-generation foldable phones are their manufacturing costs that are expected to balloon their price tags to around $1,500, well outside of the reach of the average consumer.
Huawei has been pursuing the concept of foldable smartphones for several years now, with Mr. Yu confirming as much in the summer of 2017 when he acknowledged the company was able to put out a two-screen device in the vein of the ZTE Axon M around the same time that particular handset launched. However, it decided against the move, opting to wait until it’s able to deliver a truly foldable handset with a single, flexible screen, according to the veteran executive. After it became clear that Samsung will be launching a bendable Android handset in the first half of 2019, Huawei seemingly ramped up its efforts on that front, though it’s still expected to lose the global foldable smartphone race, at least in terms of actual releases. That may be part of the reason why the tech giant resolved to differentiate its product in other aspects, making it both larger and 5G-compatible. Several South Korean carriers are even said to have been surprised after Huawei started pitching them a finalized product earlier this month, with one industry source recently being cited as saying that the best-case scenario most network operators expected was a prototype device with a rough feature set and no firm release windows.
Impact: The fact that Huawei’s first Android smartphone with a bendable display panel will apparently be launching as part of the Mate series is a strong indication that even outside of its unconventional screen, the device will boast flagship specifications, including the latest Kirin 980 chip from Huawei’s subsidiary HiSilicon. However, while Samsung is understood to be planning an entirely new product lineup revolving around foldable displays, Huawei’s decision to stick with a known sub-brand for its first such device suggests the company may still not be fully convinced in the near-term commercial potential of this new and unique form factor and could instead be planning for a period of aggressive experimentation before committing resources toward marketing an entirely new product family.
Regardless of who ends up being the world’s first manufacturer to release a foldable handset, this form factor isn’t expected to gain significant market traction for at least several more years. Bendable mobile panels still require some extremely expensive technologies to be produced on a scale, which is likely to keep flexible smartphones well above the pay grade of the average consumer for the foreseeable future. Still, with most major handset makers now pursuing the concept, it appears that foldable handsets have a realistic chance of being more than just a fad. While the majority of the industry remains vague about where exactly it currently stands on the matter, a detailed update on foldable smartphones should follow no later than the first quarter of 2019, with both Samsung and Huawei being expected to launch their seminal devices at the next iteration of MWC.