Foldable Smartphones: Is It For The Enterprise?

An Analyst Makes The Enterprise Case For Foldables

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Steven Lerner

There have been two trendy innovations dominating mobility in 2019: the emergence of 5G and the potential release of foldable smartphones. The latter of the two has been the subject of significant attention lately, and deserves a deep dive in order to explain the enterprise ramifications.

What Are Foldable Devices?

For the longest time, mobility thought leaders have been intrigued about the concept of having a device screen with a flexible display. After years of speculation, images began to leak online of the first foldable smartphone, or foldable device, in 2018. Essentially, a foldable device is a tablet-like device that can fold its screen in half so that it can also turn into a standard smartphone. It’s an entirely new category of mobile devices.

At MWC 2019, foldable devices became a reality. Samsung unveiled its first foldable device, dubbed the Galaxy Fold, at MWC 2019. Huawei also unveiled its foldable device, the Huawei Mate X, and TCL presented a prototype of a foldable device as well. Other manufacturers, including Motorola and Xiaomi, are said to also be working on foldable devices.

Some ‘Breaking’ News

Samsung was set to release the Galaxy Fold on April 26, with many pre-orders coming in from buyers. A week before the release data, there were several instances where tech reviewers were reporting serious malfunctions with the Galaxy Fold in the first day or two of use.

Some of the defects were related to the protective layer of the device. When it was removed, several units reportedly failed and the screens flickered. However, the pressing issue related to the hinge, which exposed a massive gap for debris or dirt to enter the device.

“It's been a while since we've seen a phone with this many gaps, with the industry trending away from moving parts and towards sealed slabs,” wrote a review from iFixIt. “It'll be interesting to see how future folding designs overcome these weaknesses.”

In light of the malfunctions, Samsung officially delayed the release of the Galaxy Fold. The new release date will be announced in the coming weeks. The Huawei Mate X is expected to be released in mid-2019.

“Initial findings from the inspection of reported issues on the display showed that they could be associated with impact on the top and bottom exposed areas of the hinge,” Samsung said in a statement. “There was also an instance where substances found inside the device affected the display performance. We will take measures to strengthen the display protection. We will also enhance the guidance on care and use of the display including the protective layer so that our customers get the most out of their Galaxy Fold.”

Should Enterprises Seriously Consider Foldable Devices?

Assuming the issues with foldable devices are resolved, there is a debate regarding its practical applications in the enterprise. The Galaxy Fold carries a price tag of $1,980 (by comparison, the Huawei Mate X is $2,600). It would certainly be an expensive device for the average corporate-owned personally-enabled (COPE) device category.

In an April 2019 poll, 60% of users told Enterprise Mobility Exchange that their organizations were not planning to leverage foldable devices. Only 40% of respondents said that they would.

There are certainly some enterprise features with these devices, including the Galaxy Fold which integrates with Samsung DeX and extends into a desktop experience.

To understand more about the business case for foldable devices, Enterprise Mobility Exchange chatted with Mike Feibus, principal analyst with Feibus Tech. He recently tested the Galaxy Fold and said that he really likes the device. Feibus also said that enterprises should consider these new devices immediately.

“I would definitely begin evaluating the ‘foldables’ right away,” said Feibus. “Any executive or employee now issued both a smartphone and a tablet is a consideration for the new category. It reduces the headaches of maintaining inventory of multiple devices. The size and weight make it more likely that the tablet — as well as the phone — will be in hand at any given moment, which means fewer lost tablets.”

One of the most significant enterprise features of foldable devices is the duality, which can be imperative for field service workers who have to carry a smartphone and a tablet.

“Having a tablet-sized screen accessible at all times means greater productivity,” said Feibus. “Employees typically handle quick-response email on phones, and reserve longer, more thoughtful communication for larger-screen devices like tablets and laptops. A larger screen at the ready means employees can get more done sooner, which, in the case of decision-makers, means others are free to take care of their work sooner as well.”

Eventually in 2019, foldable devices will hit the market. However, the question looms: will enterprises join the foldable device bandwagon, or not?