There is a growing buzz in Silicon Valley regarding the foldable phone revolution that is quickly rising over the horizon. Indeed, you won’t have long to wait for the firework show if the rumors regarding Apple’s 2023-24 launch date of a foldable iPhone are true.
For years, TV shows such as Netflix’s ‘Westworld’ have prophesied the popular usage of foldable handheld smart devices. The obvious advantage of such hardware devices is that they can unfold several times to create a screen as large as a tablet or even a laptop.
Inevitably, such devices will quickly take over from current smartphones and tablets as they would be an all-in-one solution that will make them irresistible to all but the most processor-hungry users.
Today’s flip phones like the Samsung Z Flip and the Oppo Find N are extremely useful bits of kit, however, they suffer from two main issues.
- Their foldout screens are still too small and therefore limited.
- Very few app developers have updated their applications to be ‘foldable friendly’ and really exploit this new technology to its fullest.
The first issue is the cause of the second as users have not yet seen enough of an advantage to buying a foldable phone vs a regular smartphone. Thus, app developers have not yet seen the incentive to spend resources and money to upgrade their applications. It’s Catch-22.
In 2021, foldable sales totaled 9,000,000 units, with Samsung’s Z Flip representing 62% of these. Pundits predict that the industry will achieve a CAGR of 25.5% through 2031. However, should Apple get in on the action, as is strongly expected given the number of foldable patents that they have registered over the last few years, then you can expect a massive explosion as foldables become extremely popular, very quickly.
Apple is a religion in the United States, and the USA sets the trends as far as global technology is concerned. In the U.S., Apple commands 55.45% of the smartphone market. So to put it simply, once it jumps, the fireworks are going to start very soon after.
A Rush to Make Apps Foldable Friendly
There are a number of key advantages that come with having a device that is able to fold out into ever larger screen sizes.
The most obvious is that people who spend a lot of time watching videos or reading get to do so from a bigger screen that enhances the experience. A bigger screen also allows for a whole range of enhanced functions such as bigger buttons, more of them, and new functions such as onscreen keywords, etc.
The fact that future foldable devices are likely to offer multiple screen size options is going to make them unbeatable as, in essence, they will be a conventional smartphone, a tablet, and a laptop rolled into one.
Not only will this new technology make mobile applications more attractive to users, but will also make websites much more attractive too. Given that websites will be able to innovate to take advantage of this new technology (just imagine news companies offering a foldable-friendly newspaper format that mimics their paper editions) it is likely that we will see a renaissance in website design and innovation.
However, there is one big problem. Application and website owners will need to be at the cutting edge of innovation to stay ahead. This means designing and developing new applications or updating their existing ones to make them compatible with the various screen sizes available on foldable devices.
As stated previously, this is one of the two current issues that is holding foldables back. Very few application developers have updated their existing apps to take advantage of the new format. This is going to change.
What Does This Mean for the Software Industry?
Inevitably, adapting applications to work with foldable devices will make mobile applications and websites more complex.
For example, different ‘versions’ of the UI will be required that are tailored for the various screen sizes. These different versions will have to automatically switch according to how a user has folded their phone.
Given that these applications will be more complex, and also that this will be something of a new frontier in terms of finding the right designs that users will like, meaning that talented UI designers and software engineers are going to be in high demadn.
It is certain that there will be a gold rush or ‘developer rush’ as companies all compete to try to hire mobile developers and designers. Since very few will have created anything for foldables, qualities such as programming language ability, adaptability, and a good ability to come up with solutions that users like, will all be gold.
Companies are going to have the added challenge of a fast-paced development process that, at least for the first few years, is going to require them to constantly adjust their software products in response to customer feedback relating to functions that are good and appealing.
This means long-term projects that will pin down all the best developers. It is almost certain that this will boost the best software developers’ and designers’ salaries as companies race to retain the most talented expertise to better their competitors.
Another offshoot of this faced-paced cutting-edge product development is that companies are going to need to manage their development teams effectively.
While this should be the case in any software development project, it is even more vital when projects are breaking new ground, and doing so at 100 mph.
Managers will need to ensure that they are using itinerant-friendly development processes such as Agile or Scrum. To support these processes, they will need to ensure that they are using the best tools for communication, project and developer progress tracking, code testing, etc.
Ensuring that their new cutting-edge features work properly across a wide range of hardware devices, in the case of Android, is vital given the statistics relating to how quickly users dump applications that don’t instantly appeal to them or don’t do what they want. This demands great developers.
As we have seen with every new technology ‘jump’, for example, the recent blockchain craze sparked by the meteoric rise of Bitcoin, the importance of talented, dedicated, and intuitive designers and developers cannot be understated.
Blockchain developers were few and far between in the early days meaning that they were hard to come by. Many companies got caught out by hiring sub-par freelance developers and ended up having to redo huge amounts of code, or even worse, finding their blockchain products hacked.
Added to this, the need for project managers to efficiently and effectively manage their dev teams is the difference between a successful product and a delayed project that costs far more than it was meant to.
The foldable gold rush is definitely not the time to be relying on freelancers but rather experienced developers who companies either employ directly to their in-house teams or outsource from software development companies remotely. If you are an application or website owner, then you need to prepare yourself and your existing team and start planning how your application is going to lead the foldable race. If you are one of the few that gets out ahead, the rewards are going to be tremendous.