March 04, 2019

MWC Barcelona - Buyer Feedback on Foldables

005930 KS, 1810 HK, 334 HK, 992 HK, AAPL
By Hartmut Leuschner
Smartphone buyers from large European and North American channels are very skeptical whether new foldable smartphone designs will translate into meaningful sales volume any time soon, noting high prices and technical problems might slow consumer adoption rates.

Still in Prototype Status
None of the smartphone buyers interviewed at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona believe foldable phones will have the potential to revive the idling smartphone market any time soon. "These phone makers are still testing the devices. They will have a few limited versions out this year, so the early adopters can experience the devices and they will spend time to work through all of the kinks," a North American carrier source said. Most buyers believe the concept of foldable devices is only a niche at this stage and said very high prices will keep sell-through volumes very small. Two believe most foldables are far away from being ready for sale. "You cannot really touch them and play around with it. Those are all prototypes with very bad response rates from the screens," one said.  

Samsung: Fold May Hurt S10
Three European buyers plan to list Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd.'s (005930 KS) Fold for the April 26 launch, but only in very small volumes. A large European buyer expects to have only a few hundred units delivered to his warehouse in the beginning, believing Samsung still has technical difficulties to get devices to the market. Another expects the launch date to be delayed and believes Samsung may launch the Fold only in South Korea by the end of April while shipments to Europe and North America may be delayed. Two said the Fold launch -- despite expected tiny volumes -- may even hurt Samsung's Galaxy S10 sales, arguing that the Fold stole all the thunder and headlines from the S10, which was launched during the same event. Two North American sources expect the Fold to be supported by most U.S. carriers, but do not believe meaningful volumes will be sold before prices come down in 2020. One buyer said the lower-cost foldable display by TCL Display Technology Holdings Ltd. (334 HK) shown at MWC may result in better retail prices and higher adoption rates.

Huawei: Design Excites
Among buyers Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd.'s foldable phone Mate X was a clear favorite. Most managers liked the design specifications and believe Huawei did a better job than Samsung on making the product thin and lightweight, while still offering a larger screen (6.6-inch closed and 8-inch when opened, compared with Samsung's 4.6-inch and 7.3-inch specs, respectively). Buyers were not able to say when they will have the device in their stores as Huawei executives only talked about a summer release during MWC, with presentation slides stating August 2019. Buyers admitted the high price (around $2,600) should limit sales expectations for this year. 

Waiting for the RAZR Foldable
Other vendors such as Xiaomi Corp. (1810 HK) and BBK Electronics Corp. Ltd.'s Oppo showed prototypes of foldables with no clear release dates. However, one vendor not showing the foldable concept at the show was on buyers' lists: Lenovo Group Ltd.'s Motorola. Motorola executives at the show hinted at a release within the time frame of other major vendors, and a European buyer said he expects Motorola to show a market ready device to European buyers in three to four weeks. European buyers expect the foldable to be the relaunch version of the legendary Motorola RAZR (see OTR Global's Dec. 19 Snapshot) and are hoping to get the device into the European market soon. 


Contributors: Dimitri Kaczmarek and Paul Ridgewell

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