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Creasing, cracking, creaking: is the world ready for foldable phones?

On: February 18, 2020

Displays that creak when they (un)fold
Displays that get cracked
Displays that have creases down the middle
Displays that peel off
Displays that get bumps and bubbles inside them

I could go on and on. And this is when we have barely seen a year or so of the so-called “foldable phone” revolution. I have been writing about technology for a while now and I can safely say that I have never come across so many phones that come with “handle with care” tags, scarily premium and still manage to look defective! The Moto Razr creaks and gets bumps on its display, the Galaxy Z Flip seems to be made of special glass that scratches like plastic, the Galaxy Fold’s display was so plasticky that some peeled it off thinking it was a screen protector… and to think we were complaining of iPhones bending a little a few years ago. 

The shocking part is that these devices are coming from established brands. Brands with a great track record in hardware and design. Sure, they have slipped up from time to time, but seldom to this extent and seldom so frequently. And all of them are slipping up on the same parameter – the foldable / flippable display. 

It has almost come to the stage when the moment one hears of a “foldable” phone, one starts ticking off mental checkboxes about bending, creaking, getting air bubbles, and so on. What is particularly shocking is that all this is happening in devices that are extremely expensive – most foldable phones (unless linked to drug lords) cost more than the starting price of the iPhone 11 Pro! It almost makes me wonder as if the words “quality control” have become superfluous in some of these organisations. How else can you explain devices that develop faults and malfunction within days, and in some cases, even hours, of being used?

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip

What’s no less befuddling is the response of many of the brands towards this. Many devices are now being accompanied by elaborate “handle with care” videos, some of which advise such levels of careful handling that you wonder if you are handling a phone or a thousand-year-old artefact. We have also heard of review times being slashed – some foldables have been handed out for as little as two days. It is almost as if the brands who have made the phones are saying: “Yeah, these are sort of not quite there, so handle them carefully.” A legitimate statement, indeed, were it not slapped on to super-hyped devices which came with massive price tags. 

I will sum it up – we are right now being sold phones that are being hailed as futuristic, being asked to pay a bomb for them and seeing a number of them develop faults and quirks within no time at all.  

Do not get me wrong. The smartphone industry has always had its share of quirkily innovative devices. Nokia had a phone with a spherical keypad, Sony put Playstation like controls on one of its devices,  Modu and Motorola tried to convince us that we could add hardware elements to phones in a modular manner, Microsoft gave us some very odd named Kin slider phones, BlackBerry gave us a QWERTY keyboard on a touchscreen that wobbled,  and so on and so forth. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this. There should be no restrictions on innovation. A point to note about all these innovative devices, however, was that although they seemed markedly different from their contemporaries and had their own set of eccentricities in terms of functionality, they seemed like finished products ready to be sold in the market. They were not perfect, but they never seemed like prototypes in terms of build. We have seen software bugs galore in devices and even the odd case of batteries that blew up, but never such an array of displays from different brands that seemed determined to show that with great foldability comes great creakability, creasibility and crackability!

The foldable display phone might indeed be the phone of the future. But then existing ones need to be made a little future proof themselves. Until that happens, a small request to the companies – keep those foldable display phones in the labs. These delicate darlings do not seem to be ready for the big, bad world. Not yet. 

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Nimish Dubey

Nimish Dubey has been writing on technology since 1999. He has contributed to a number of publications and websites including The Times of India, Hindustan Times, Mint, Economic Times, Outlook, and India Today. He is currently the Editorial Mentor at TechPP.com and a regular contributor to Indian Express. When not writing, he loves to read and listen to classic rock.