TOKYO -- Consumers are not interested in buying a foldable phone, a Nikkei Asian Review poll shows, even as Samsung Electronics and Huawei bank on these $2,000 devices to rekindle excitement in a maturing market.
Just under 70% of respondents to Nikkei's informal poll on Facebook and Twitter said they would not be interested in buying a foldable phone, while 75% said they would not pay more than a $1,000 for the industry's biggest innovation since Apple launched its iPhone in 2007.
The poll, whose three questions drew a total of more than 1,900 responses, was conducted within 24 hours after Huawei's launch of its Mate X foldable, 5G enabled smartphone. Samsung Electronics launched its Galaxy Fold version last Wednesday.
The findings of the poll, coming so soon after Samsung's and Huawei's launches, are not an encouraging sign for companies that have spent years and considerable sums of investment developing the products.
Consumers seem to regard the foldable phones as over-engineered, offering far more capability than they need from a smartphone. "No, what for?" commented a user from Mexico. "It's better to have a strong signal to upload/download info promptly."
Another user echoed that sentiment: "$2600 for foldable phone while your needs are just web browser, Youtube, call, SMS and game."
A Twitter user in India meanwhile sees different applications for the new tech: "foldable LED screens may find greater usage in outdoor advertising & public places as signboards, etc."
The survey also showed that the overwhelming majority are unwilling to pay more than $1,000 for a foldable phone. Huawei's Mate X is priced at 2,299 euros ($2,610), while Samsung's Galaxy Fold starts at $1,980. Chinese startup Royole released a smartphone for the Chinese market starting at from 8,999 yuan ($1,342). Only 4% of respondents said they are willing to pay over $2,000.
Industry insiders and analysts say they are not surprised by the poll's findings.
"I believe for the next two to three years, foldable phones will only be a niche product rather than a mainstream mobile device," an executive at a company that supplies Samsung, Huawei and Apple told the Nikkei Asian Review. The executive, who asked not to be named, said the current fledgling specifications and hefty price tags will easily scare ordinary consumers away.
Jeff Pu, a tech analyst at Hong Kong-based GF Securities, agreed, saying the poll results were in line with his expectations.
"The key is they are too expensive. I think the survey results for foldable phones would reverse if the price tags were between $800 and $900, a similar pricing level with Samsung's Note series," Pu told the Nikkei.
Racking up sales of foldable devices, however, is not a major priority for either Samsung or Huawei, according to Pu.
"The companies needed to introduce them into the market so they can collect feedback from consumers and fine-tune the products while training their supply chains for the technology," Pu said. "Moreover, it is the chance for both of them to establish their brand image as a leading company for foldable phones."
The importance of that image is clear from the debate now swirling over which manufacturer came out with the better device. In the Nikkei poll, respondents were divided between Samsung and Huawei. In a two-choice question on Facebook, 59% said they preferred Samsung, while 41% chose Huawei.
A Facebook user in India was impressed by the multitasking function of Samsung's offering. "On the Samsung fold, one can work with 3 apps at the same time, such as messaging a friend on whatsapp, using the browser, and watching a Youtube video all at the same time."
A user in Malaysia, however, argued that Huawei has the better design, as its phone has no notch, folds flat, boasts a bigger screen when folded and unfolded, and is also 5G ready.
On Twitter, 32% of respondents chose models other than those of Samsung or Huawei, apparently in expectation that other manufacturers will come up with better designs and functions. "I go for Apple," one user commented, even though the U.S. company has not yet showcased a foldable phone.
Hiroshi Hayase, senior director of IHS Markit, said that Samsung so far has advantage over Huawei and Royole because of their capacity to mass produce organic light-emitting diode displays. "It is uncertain whether [Huawei and Royole] can release a product [on a commercial scale]" given their technological and manufacturing capacities, he said.
Since the foldable phones need more than double the size of display of a conventional smartphone and require extremely advanced technologies, they "cannot possibly be priced below $1,000," according to Hayase. Foldable phones are likely to cost more than twice as much as regular smartphones for some years and be aimed at the premium market, he said.
Veteran technology blogger Liao A-hui pointed out that even with the steep price tags, 25% of respondents still said they were interested in buying a foldable phone, which was more than he expected. Even so, the first wave of foldables are "not for everyone," Liao added. "They're really for those first-wave technology adopters. ... It's like not everyone will go buy a Lamborghini or Maserati."
As for the low level of consumer excitement, that too, may not prove as much of a problem as it appears. As the supply chain executive pointed out: "The first generation of Steve Job's iPhone wasn't a must-have product when it was introduced in 2007."
The three questions in the poll were: Are you interested in buying a foldable phone? (939 responses); How much would you be willing to spend on a foldable phone (548 responses); Which foldable model do you find most appealing? (414 responses)
Nikkei staff writers Cheng Ting-fang in Barcelona and Lauly Li in Taipei contributed this report.