What a difference a year makes! The dawn of a new decade is a great way to highlight the passage of time, and many of the trend-savvy marketing brains in tech know to grasp the inevitable collective nostalgia. If you’ve yet seen Motorola’s iconic Razr launch video from back in November, you’ll know that flip phones are enjoying a revival; except everything is upgraded to modern standards so that the only echo of the past is the clamshell design. The most futuristic revamp is of course the foldable screen, a feature that many mobile manufacturers are currently busy perfecting.

The reputation of foldable phones somewhat crashed and burned in the market last year when premature application of the technology caused screen breakages and disappointing performance in several of the models. Thankfully, the latest releases are quickly making up for past blunders. The relaunch of the much improved Samsung Galaxy Fold back in September certainly helped soothe concerned consumers, but it’s the recent unveiling of Samsung’s Z Flip that has truly helped position folding phones back into a favorable light.

Samsung Finally Reaps Rewards for Foldable Persistence

Embracing the nostalgic yearning at the turn of the decade, much like Motorola, Samsung launched their version of a folding flip phone around Valentine’s day (very apt). Since that day, it’s been selling out fast, and the public consensus looks very good. Foldables are winning. Huawei’s Mate X, a slick lateral folding phone unveiled in February 2019 but only launched in China in November, is also enjoying rave reviews, despite serious trade troubles with the U.S preventing a smooth international rollout.

With rumors flying over more models in the pipeline, it’s pretty certain that foldables are here to stay. The technology is still in its infancy, and some trial and error is necessary before we see the evolution of foldable phones into truly spectacular devices. What does this mean for those in the app world? It means an app revolution is coming. 

New Folding Models Depend on App Innovations

Apple holds patents for foldable tech, as well as collaborating in folding display research with LG, and so is probably working quietly on a foldable iPhone away from the limelight. This isn’t unusual, Apple often waits years after a category is established — think smartphone or smartwatch — before blazing into the market with a sleek and refined device. Similarly, Xiaomi holds intriguing folding phone patents and Oppo revealed it’s own folding prototype (a wraparound phone similar to the Mate X) that it promises to ship as soon as demand grows. TCL revealed its budget-friendly concept phone at CES 2020, a welcome addition that might help pressure the bigger brands to develop phones with a more reasonable price tag. LG has made it clear that they are waiting for app stores to catch up before they release their own flagship foldable. The demand for apps in the native ratios of folding screen dimensions is therefore urgent at this point. 

The development of these apps will be the catalyst for other mobile manufacturers to join the movement, resulting in many more foldable models hitting the market. It’s clearly up to app developers to create a seamless UX as soon as possible. The foldable phone trend also opens up advertising innovations, especially in the app world. At Appnext, we’ve recently migrated from in-app to exclusive on-device app recommendations, and we’re excited about the new possibilities foldable devices will unveil. 

Double the space, double the possibilities; also for advertising.
 Double the space, double the possibilities; also for advertising.

That Screen Changes Everything

That nifty bendy screen on foldable models offers a plethora of possibilities for novel device usage. The following specs are the biggest game-changers in current and future models:

Split Screens and Multi Panels 

Multitasking on mobile can be a pain. Rather than toggling continuously, with a large fold-out screen you can finally have apps displaying simultaneously. Maps and a messaging app, for example; or a notebook app where you can annotate as you read documents, side by side. Heck, even continuous streaming of YouTube while multitasking. Samsung’s Fold can handle three apps open at once, which is getting close to it performing as a mini-laptop.

For apps and advertisers, multiple tabs on display further the possibilities in the current trend of service-based monetization. In other words, apps that profit from click-to-purchase redirect actions to third-party services such as food delivery or ride-sharing, without the user having to install a separate app. It also allows a bigger canvas for sidebar (or, in this case, sidescreen) ads in all their formats to display without interrupting the user during their game, article or video.

Huge Display Size

Speaking of canvas, the main draw of the foldable screen is all that glorious space. Designers currently using tablets to sketch on-screen can now do so on their smartphones. A screen twice its original size also makes gaming and video more enjoyable. Game developers, in particular, will no doubt imagine many new ways to optimize the extra room for play. Think split screen controls (similar to Nintendo DS) as well as extra on-screen options. A boom of new game apps, as well as many big-name game companies working hard to release ‘foldable-friendly’ integrations are expected. 

Apps offering multiplayer mode on a single screen that folds outwards like the Mate X will undoubtedly emerge; what with the Battleship-esque tent style configuration possible on a tabletop. Similarly, game or video apps for inward folding displays like the Galaxy Fold or the brand new Z Flip will hold the unique position to use unusual vertical and horizontal perspectives in a single seamless image, an almost pop-out-book effect. Incidentally, the Galaxy Fold lends itself perfectly to being held and read as a book; bringing it into the e-reader league. 

 Outwardly folding devices give the smartphone camera the ability to be both front and rear facing.
Outwardly folding devices give the smartphone camera the ability to be both front and rear-facing.

Goodbye Selfie Cam

When you have a phone that folds outwards, there’s no longer a need for dual cameras. The main camera could act as both the front and rear camera, depending on whether the device is open or closed. Focus on this single lens may lead to pretty spectacular photographic power. Developers of photo and image editing apps are already looking into new ways to incorporate this tech into their software.

The Future is Foldable

It’s an exciting time for app advertisers, OEMs and operators as foldable tech becomes more and more mainstream. A big advantage of foldables, as mentioned, will be the additional screen space to place apps in a less crowded way. Moreover, users will interact with apps in novel and more intuitive ways. Here at Appnext, we know that on-device app placements are already a highly effective marketing technique for advertisers and app developers, and the scope of this type of unified service will only grow with the rise of devices that use foldable screens. 

Appnext partners with top OEMs such as Samsung, Xiaomi and Oppo to integrate an app recommendation engine directly into the latest handsets. App suggestions are uniquely tailored to each individual, based on behavioral AI, which offers users a custom and exciting app discovery journey. It’s a winning concept; exclusive app placements have improved engagement, solidified user loyalty and driven up UA. Foldable screens are already transforming the mobile experience, which will soon be complemented by personalized services, one of which may very well be app discovery.


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