Folding phone.
Business Insider screenshot
  • Foldable phones have been around as a concept for more than a decade, but some are finally on the market. 
  • They tend to be expensive and sometimes clunky, according to reviewers.
  • Microsoft just launched the two-screen Surface Duo to mixed reviews. 
  • For more articles, go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.


Foldable phones might be the future of smartphones.

Tech giants like Huawei, Motorola, and Samsung have all released foldable phones, and Microsoft just joined them with the launch of the Surface Duo.The appeal for making bigger phones is obvious as they tend to sell better, and they have all the highest end features like fast processors and impressive cameras, but there's a limit to what people can fit in their pockets. Folding phones have emerged as one way to get around this perpetual problem in the world of technology. 

Even before technology made folding phones feasible, tech companies brought future concepts to show off at conventions like CES. Then, some manufacturers moved forward with dual-screen design, which don't rely on flexible OLED and can therefore be sturdier. Others made the screens themselves foldable.

Now, even Apple is rumored to be thinking about a future folding iPhone, although there are no official announcements. There's definitely demand, however. A 2019 UBS survey found that Apple buyers would be willing to pay an extra $600 for a folding iPhone, and fancy features like a folding screen could be a way for phone makers to convince customers to pay more and keep margins high.

Here's how foldable phones have developed. 

In 2006, Polymer Vision unveiled a rollable E-reader called the Readius, though it was just a concept. The screen folded over itself several times to become more compact.
Readius foldable E-reader concept.
JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP via Getty Images

In 2008, Nokia's animation of a thin, foldable glass smartphone got attention from journalists and tech fans for what seemed impossible at the time.
Nokia Morph concept.
Nokia

In 2011, the Kyocera Echo stood out as an early foldable phone that was actually made it to market, though it had dual screens instead of a single foldable screen.
Kyocera Echo.
Steve Kovach/Business Insider
In a review at the time, Business Insider's Steve Kovach noted that it looked similar to a Nintendo DS.
Kyocera Echo.
Steve Kovach/Business Insider

In 2017, ZTE's Axon M was built around the same concept, with dual screens connected by a hinge.
Axon M.
Photo by Joan Cros/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
In a review at the time, Business Insider's Antonio Villas-Boas noted that while the dual screens could be useful, the hinge got in the way of the experience.
Axon M.
Antonio Villas-Boas/Business Insider

In 2018, Chinese tech company Royole brought the first foldable phone with a flexible OLED display, the FlexPai.
Royole FlexPai.
The 7.8-inch screen folded in half but didn't actually fold flat. Early reviews called the phone "bulky" and difficult to hold.
Royole's FlexPai foldable smartphone
Royole

The Samsung Galaxy Fold went on sale in April 2019 for a hefty $2000. In a review at the time, Business Insider's Lisa Eadicicco noted the convenience of a phone that could fit in your pocket, yet unfold to nearly the size of an iPad mini.
Samsung Galaxy Fold.
Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

Some reviewers reported broken screens and felt that the product wasn't quite ready for market yet.
Samsung Galaxy Fold.
Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

In February 2020, Motorola announced the Razr foldable phone, based on the classic Razr flip phone design.

Motorola's revisited Razr phone.
Motorola/YouTube
A Business Insider review at the time noted that instead of unfolding out into extra, sometimes unnecessary screen space, the Razr can fold down to more easily fit in pockets.
Motorola's revisited Razr phone.
Motorola
Days later, Samsung announced the Galaxy Z Flip.
Galaxy Z Flip.
Lisa Eadicicco/Business Insider
Unlike other foldable phones on the mark, the Galaxy Z Flip has a glass screen, which reviewers approved of.
Galaxy Z Flip.
Lisa Eadicicco/Business Insider

Apple seems to be the only cell phone company not working on a foldable phone design, although patents give a hint at what a folding iPhone might one day look like.
Apple patent.
United States Patent and Trademark Office

Apple most recent folding patent is from July, for a screen that is still partially visible when folded.
Apple patent.
Apple via USPTO.gov
This month, Microsoft is launching the $1,400 Surface Duo, a phone with two screens that opens like a book.
Microsoft Surface Duo.
Lisa Eadicicco/Business Insider

The two 5.6 inch screens are connected by a 360-degree hinge that can fold into different modes, or be used as one giant screen.
Microsoft Surface Duo.
Lisa Eadicicco/Business Insider

Business Insider's Lisa Eadicicco found that the device is too small to replace a tablet, but large and unwieldy when operating with one hand.
Microsoft Surface Duo.
Lisa Eadicicco/Business Insider

But, she said that the way some apps are designed to work well across the two screens made her optimistic about Microsoft's ambitions and folding phones in general.
Microsoft Surface Duo.
Lisa Eadicicco/Business Insider