Why Flip Phones Are So Incredibly Expensive | CNN Business
Chris Pantons is what you might call a Google Pixel super fan. The Knoxville, Tenn. native loves the software, the camera, the virtual assistant, all of it. He even credits the the phone’s car accident detection tool that saved his life a few years ago when he was in an accident.
“I’ve had pretty much every Pixel device,” said Pantons, 33, who has posted hundreds of YouTube videos about Pixel phones and other tech products. “I influenced a lot of my family to switch to Pixel: my brother and sister-in-law, mother and wife… and I also had a co-worker switch.”
But this is the first year it won’t be upgrading to Pixel’s latest offering: the Pixel Fold, a foldable smartphone that starts at $1,799. “I would love to have it,” he told CNN. “I don’t have the finances to do it. … [That] The price of a first-generation device is astronomical.”
Earlier this month, Google became the latest tech company to unveil a foldable smartphone, promising to give customers all the features they’ve come to expect in a phone, combined with a screen the size of tablet But Pantons wasn’t the only one to feel the sticker shock.
“My first car cost $1800,” one user wrote on Twitter. “Google [lost] their minds”. Another user said they saved up, knowing that the price of a Pixel foldable phone would inevitably be high once announced.
“The fact that you can buy a new Pixel, a Pixel tablet and a Pixel Watch for less than the Fold and have multiple devices for use cases is a better value,” Pantons said.
The pricing problem is not unique to Google. When Samsung launched the Galaxy Z Fold in 2020, it cost $1,999. It’s come down in price a bit, but the latest version of the Z Fold still starts at $1,799, the same as the Pixel Fold. Even cheap branded folding models retail for over $1,000 in overseas markets.
By comparison, the flagship iPhone starts at $799, less than half the price of the Pixel Fold. And classic ’90s-style prepaid phones, which are suddenly back in style, can cost as little as $20.
Higher price is one of the factors limiting the size of the foldable market. Samsung currently dominates the category, followed by others such as Motorola, Lenovo, Oppo and Huawei. According to ABI Research, foldable and flexible displays accounted for about 0.7% of the smartphone market in 2021, and in 2022 it was expected to fall to just under 2%.
Lowering the price could help increase traction, but manufacturers may struggle to do so soon.
The flexible screen found on foldable phones is one of the main reasons why they cost so much.
Flexible screens require more engineering and are more expensive to manufacture than traditional screens. And the Google Pixel Fold has two: a 5.8-inch cover screen and a 7.6-inch inner screen.
Other components unique to folding also add to the cost. The Pixel Fold, for example, moves on a custom 180-degree hinge. According to the company, the mechanism is completely moved from under the screen to improve its resistance to dust and decrease the overall thickness of the device. This also requires complex engineering and expensive manufacturing.
“The expense is mainly related to the high costs of the components, particularly the folding screens and the hinge technology, which in many cases is a proprietary hinge design,” said researcher David McQueen. director of ABI Research. “So until volume grows enough for sellers to get scale, prices won’t come down anytime soon.”
Foldable smartphones are still in their infancy. As a result, much of the research and development, and associated costs, still it’s moving forward for manufacturers as they fine-tune their products.
“Companies often try to recoup their investment with a high price,” said Nabila Popal, director of research at market research firm IDC.
Flip phones are also still a niche product for now, with manufacturers targeting price for early buyers to help offset costs.
The future of foldables remains uncertain. Most apps are not yet optimized for foldable devices; Google’s main rival, Apple, has not yet accepted the option; and betting on a first-generation device with a lot of unknowns is a risky bet for anyone.
Flip phones are also notoriously fragile. Early versions of the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold, for example, had problems with the screen. Repairs for foldable smartphones can also be expensive.
But Google’s decision to embrace the option may help persuade more consumers to come.
Sean Milfort, a PhD student at Northcentral University, said he ordered the Pixel Fold because he always wanted a foldable smartphone and didn’t want to leave the Pixel brand.
“I’m a big fan of the Pixel line and loved the idea of a foldable,” he said. “The fact that it’s coming from Google, because they make Android, gives me hope that they’re really going to invest in this larger form factor device with Android.”
But stalwarts like Pantons can wait for the opportunity to drop in price.
“If a swap deal later becomes available or goes up for sale, maybe then [I’ll buy one],” he said.