For years South Korea’s Samsung ruled Mobile World Congress (MWC), a four-day event that is the largest conference and exhibition for the mobile industry, in Barcelona, Spain. This time, however, it was China’s Huawei, not Samsung, which led MWC. Although it may seem unthinkable, the Mate X foldable phone helped Huawei corner all the eyeballs at the event.
But it’s not just marketing hype that made tech journalists, bloggers, analysts and trade insiders take note of the Mate X. Huawei’s take on Mate X helped bring in a new perspective into the conversations about foldable phones.
Huawei Mate X vs Samsung Galaxy Fold
The Huawei Mate X has clearly stolen the limelight from the Galaxy Fold, Samsung’s first foldable phone announced a few days ahead of Mobile World Congress. But it will be up to the consumers to take a final call on which device is best for their use.
The Mate X is bigger of the two, and looks more polished. And unlike the Galaxy Fold which has a folding screen inside, like in a book, the Mate X’s single OLED flexible screen folds outwards to transform it from a smartphone into an 8-inch tablet.
Compared with the Galaxy Fold, the Mate X appears to have a much thinner body when folded: 11mm compared with 17mm. It’s also 5G-enabled, unlike Galaxy Fold which will only be made available in 4G/LTE initially. Huawei’s Mate X has a 4,500 mAh battery with 55W fast charging, while Samsung’s Galaxy Fold has a 4,380 mAh battery.
“The hinge itself took three years to design,” Clement Wong, director for product marketing at Huawei, told indianexpress.com on the sidelines of MWC.
Wong took potshots at the Galaxy Fold when he said that there’s no screen gap in the Mate X when it’s folded as you’ll find on “other foldable phones” from rival brands. “Ok, there are a lot of foldable phones but one of the major parts of this phone [Mate X] is that it is gap-less,” he said, adding that the little hinge (Huawei likes to call it the “Falcon Hinge”) around the back of the phone makes sure all the components are aligned together.
Huawei sees the foldable phone as a productivity device, aimed at the enterprise user. They are probably the ones who would like to try out the Mate X first, as the phone also promises 5G support. “This is a 5G foldable phone with great tablet experience,” he said.
At the moment, Huawei appears to be more confident about the Mate X versus Samsung, which isn’t too comfortable talking about the Galaxy Fold.
Samsung hasn’t shown the Galaxy Fold to members of the press, or even allowed them to take photographs up-close. Those who attended the Unpacked 2019 event in San Francisco only got to see it on stage. Even at MWC, Samsung put the Fold behind a glass box.
That is not a healthy sign for a phone that is expected to go on sale in a few weeks. And there are a few who are wondering if the phone isn’t ready yet.
If Samsung was reluctant to show the Galaxy Fold to press and bloggers, Huawei did the complete opposite. In multiple closed-door press briefings, the Chinese company allowed select journalists to see and take pictures of the Mate X up-close. Although the company did not give permission to hold and feel the Mate X, it did talk about the device at great length.
Huawei seemed confident about the product and was willing to take tough questions as well. When one of the journalists asked Wong to explain the reason why there is a crease visible in the middle of the display, he said, ”We ship it officially in the middle of April, so a lot of alignment we are doing on that.” The company hopes it will sort out the issue in the final retail version.
The Galaxy Fold too has a crease that runs down the centre of the display, as spotted by a number of publications, but Samsung hasn’t commented on the same.
Huawei, Samsung less concerned about sales of foldable phones
Huawei and Samsung are clearly looking at foldable phones to show their prowess in Research & Development. For Huawei, Mate X is the perfect opportunity to show the world its expertise in 5G and hardware design. Meanwhile, Samsung Galaxy Fold exhibits the South Korean majors’ supremacy in making flexible OLED display.
An early launch of the Galaxy Fold gives the company an edge over its competitors such as Apple, who are dependent on Samsung for OLED displays used in iPhones. Not many are aware that Samsung has a separate display division that makes smartphone displays for a number of OEMs. Samsung Display is the world’s largest flexible OLED maker.
With the smartphone market already saturated in the developed markets, Huawei and Samsung are more than willing to take risks and bet on the foldable phones. The market for foldable phones might not exist today, but the future might just unfold. Samsung and Huawei ranked first and third in the global smartphone market, according to market research firm IDC.
“Foldables are great for the brand image of Huawei and Samsung,” Canalys’ senior analyst Ben Stanton said, adding how it is “important to showcase cutting-edge technology.” Stanton said Huawei wants to foster innovation in the market and the company is not chasing “pure sales volume” this year.
“Mate X is a cleverly executed phone but Huawei still wants to iron out some kinks before its official launch. The hinge mechanism is more complex than many people realise. This is what is inhibiting several other firms from launching their own foldables,” he explained.
BBK-owned Oppo had to cancel the launch of a foldable phone at MWC 2019, citing lack of improvements in the user experience. LG said it has the ability to make a foldable smartphone, but won’t launch one this year.
Developer support also critical
The challenge will be to convince developers to tailor apps for its own foldable design and its screen aspect ratios.
The Mate X foldable phone will sell for €2299 and is set for release in the “middle” of 2019. That’s even more expensive than Samsung’s Galaxy Fold, which starts at $1980.
“Price will put off many people,” Stanton said, adding that “ultra-wealthy demographics and developers will be willing to pay” for the Huawei Mate X and Samsung Galaxy Fold.
Stanton indicated that Foldable phones will cost more than usual in the beginning, but support from operators may allow more users to own these devices. “The Mate X and Galaxy Fold won’t be a revenue generator, given the production capacity is still fairly low. It is more about brand image and fighting for developer attention,” he added.
As with any first-generation device, the Mate X and Galaxy Fold are not going to be perfect. The durability of the screen and the developer support will decide the fate of the foldable phones. The latter part is again very crucial for the success of those devices. Huawei says it is working closely with Google to optimise the software experience on the Mate X, but isn’t willing to confirm the app partners yet. But the company did mention that a separate team is working within Huawei that primarily works with developers to create apps for the new form factor.
Wong wasn’t keen to comment on how many units of the Mate X it plans to sell this year, which signals that the market will be fairly limited, at least in the beginning. “We think the Mate X is a great phone and people will love it. Numbers will follow,” Wong said.