Pixel Fold is a mobile phone full of Wong Kar Wai's style: it is like a bird without feet, it will only land once in its life, and that is when it "dies".
In the digital circle, there are endless rumors about Google's entry into the folding screen mobile phone market. After Google announced this year that it would launch Android 12L that is more compatible with large-screen interactions, the relationship between Google and folding screens has become more ambiguous.
▲ Android 12L more suitable for large screens
And last month, Google also used Samsung’s folding screen phones Galaxy Fold3 and Galaxy Z Flip3 to shoot a promotional advertisement called "The future is already unfolded" to show that the Google application has good adaptability on folding screen phones. Aroused people's more reveries.
Just as people were speculating whether the rumored Pixel Fold really existed, the consulting firm Display Supply Chain Consultants (DSCC) gave a credible analysis based on its supply chain source: The good news is that Pixel Fold really does. Exists; the bad news is that Google has now abandoned the project.
DSCC CEO Ross Young said in an analysis report that Google has decided not to bring Pixel Fold to the market and stop purchasing parts related to folding screens from the supply chain. Therefore, it is expected that before the first half of 2022, this rumored "foldable son "Neither will appear in the market."
According to the DSCC report, the reason why Google chose to be conservative is probably because the sales of Samsung's two new folding screen products are better than expected, and the competition in the folding screen market is more difficult than expected.
In the traditional smartphone market dominated by Apple and Samsung, the sound volume of Pixel phones is still meager, and Google is also facing many difficulties. Instead of fighting two lines, Google chose to focus more on promoting the Pixel series.
To everyone's surprise, the rumors of Pixel Fold landed because the development project was cancelled. Even if Google is willing to believe that folding screens will be the future, this door to the future has not been "opened" for Google.
Will the Pixel get better after folding?
The appearance of Pixel Fold has always been a mystery. At present, any design details about Pixel Fold are largely derived from some design patents applied by Google for folding screen phones.
For example, in a Google patent, a device with a flipped structure similar to the original Huawei Mate X is shown. After unfolding, the outside of the fuselage is a large screen.
The other patent uses a three-stage structure, two screens can be expanded at the same time, to obtain a larger field of view, we have seen similar products in the display of manufacturers such as Huaxing Optoelectronics.
However, these designs may not necessarily become a reality in the end, because these patents may also be used for future product development. This kind of patent strategy is not uncommon.
▲ Picture from: @WaqarKhan
Combining these patents and supply news, Pixel Fold is most likely to be equipped with a horizontally folded 7.6-inch display like Galaxy Fold3.
ET News also reported that Samsung also plans to supply Google with UTG ultra-thin glass and a 120Hz high refresh rate LTPO screen, which is similar to its own Galaxy Fold3.
If the guess is correct, then the hardware configuration of Pixel Fold can be said to be at the top level of a folding screen phone, and it can even be regarded as a Galaxy Fold3 dressed in a Pixel coat.
But it’s not necessarily a good thing to be in line with Samsung-Pixel Fold may cost more hardware than Galaxy Fold3, and if the price and experience are too far apart, why don’t consumers choose Samsung with more mature products?
First look at the core chipset. When Google released the Pixel 6 series, it also launched its first self-developed chip, Tensor, built in cooperation with Samsung.
However, according to the experience of some users, Tensor is not as good as Google advertised. The complaints mainly focus on the high power consumption, instability, and even fingerprint unlocking of the Pixel 6 series.
As the first-generation product, Tensor's situation should be reasonable. After receiving feedback from users, Google is also actively fixing these bugs, but this also reflects Google's lack of experience in controlling this self-developed chip.
Based on Tensor's various unsatisfactory performances, if Google rashly applies Tensor to more complex UX folding screens, it is hard to believe that the stability of Pixel Fold can be better than the Galaxy Fold3 that has gone through three product iterations.
Taking pictures may be the difference between Pixel Fold and Galaxy Fold3. When the Pixel 6 series was released, a series of computational photography functions such as motion blur, magic removal, and skin tone correction introduced by Google were impressive.
However, according to the camera code found by 9to5Google in the Google Camera app, the original plan for Pixel Fold is probably not the new three-camera module on the Pixel 6 Pro, but the IMX363 ancestor that has been used from the 2018 Pixel 3 to the Pixel 5 Photo.
Due to the high cost of parts for folding screen mobile phones, it is not difficult for mobile phone manufacturers to shrink camera modules compared to flagship phones. Samsung and other manufacturers also adopt the same strategy, but use multi-cameras such as Pixel Fold and Galaxy Fold3. Comparing the competing products of the module together, even if Google has an exclusive algorithm optimization, it is difficult to attract consumers.
Unstable self-developed chips and difficult to balance hardware costs. From a purely hardware perspective, if Google launches Pixel Fold and Galaxy Fold and other products head-on, it is indeed not a rational decision.
Folding screen phones are destined to be a game that only belongs to the "big players".
Toys for a few people, games for big players
According to the latest report of the research organization Canalys, the top five shipments in the third quarter of 2021 are Samsung, Apple, Xiaomi, OPPO and vivo. In addition to Apple, several other manufacturers are eyeing the folding screen market.
At the beginning of this year, Xiaomi released the first folding screen mobile phone Mix Fold, OPPO and vivo from time to time reported some new actions, and actively lay out the folding screen.
As the "number one player" in the folding screen market, Samsung has refreshed the series' sales records with the Galaxy Fold3 and Galaxy Z Flip3. The total sales of Samsung's folding screen phones alone have been booked.
Another "veteran player" Huawei also recently made a minor upgrade for the Mate X2, launching a plain leather version, and there is news that Huawei may bring a vertical folding product similar to Z Flip in the future.
The folding screen mobile phone market is niche but not deserted. Compared to two years ago, both manufacturers and categories are richer, but without exception, the players are all big players.
▲ Picture from: Counterpoint
According to statistics from the research organization Counterpoint, the shipment of folding screen mobile phones in 2021 will reach three times that in 2020, or about 9 million units, of which Samsung has a dominant market share of 88%. Compared with the entire mobile phone market, which is often hundreds of millions in volume, the folding screen market is very small.
The reason why the folding screen is high and low is "expensive."
For consumers, the starting price of 10,000 yuan is destined to have no relationship with mass consumers. For manufacturers, high R&D costs also make it difficult to compress the cost of parts. Even if the price is increased, it is difficult to rely on its low price. The sales are profitable.
This is because folding screens increase a lot of "visible" and "invisible" costs compared to traditional mobile phones.
South Korean consulting agency CGS-CIMB released a research report on the original Galaxy Fold, which estimated the raw material cost of the Fold and compared it with the Galaxy S9+ and iPhone XS Max in the same period.
Among them, the cost of Fold's screen components is almost twice that of the iPhone XS Max, and the cost of mechanical parts is also quite high (mainly concentrated on the hinge). Even if the price is 800 US dollars higher than the iPhone XS Max, the profit margins of the two are barely flat.
In the invisible places, the hidden cost of folding screens is also higher than that of traditional straight-screen mobile phones. With 3-5 times the experimental cost of the preliminary research and development, the lower yield rate of flexible screen packaging, the time cost of long-term trial production, and the UI adaptation for multi-screen interaction, the research and development of folding screens is destined to be a long-term investment.
As the screen cost occupies the bulk of the folding screen mobile phone, whoever can control the screen cost lower will have the initiative in pricing.
Folding screens seem to be a technical competition, but in fact it is more like a competition of supply chain management and control capabilities among major manufacturers.
In fact, the popularity of Galaxy Z Fold3 and Galaxy Z Flip3 is largely due to its lower starting price compared to the previous generation.
In this regard, Samsung, which has its own screen production capacity, has a natural cost advantage, while Huawei, which is backed by BOE, and Xiaomi, which is backed by Visionox, will be more passive.
From this perspective, the folding screen is more like a natural product born in the mature process of the supply chain management and control capabilities of mobile phone manufacturers. It is not difficult to understand why small manufacturers such as Google (in terms of the size of the mobile phone market) dare not rush. Enter, or leave sadly halfway.
▲ Picture from: XDA
Folding screens and other technologies are the "supercars" of smartphone manufacturers-running fast and selling well is not the goal. The mission of folding screen phones is to explore brand value to higher areas in the name of future technology.
As more and more large factories enter the market, the folding screen market will become more lively than ever in the next year.
According to the ET News report, Samsung plans to supply UTG ultra-thin glass to more manufacturers. The Elec also guessed that UTG glass will become more and more popular in the next wave of domestic folding screen mobile phones, thus replacing the mainstream plastic screen. , Improve the durability of the folding screen mobile phone.
When the durability and price of folding screen mobile phones gradually catch up with traditional mobile phones, then it will be more meaningful to discuss "whether folding is the future of display".
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