Just a couple of years back, foldable smartphones were merely the stuff of fantasy. The kind of tech that you saw in sci-fi movies, but that was until rumours of Samsung making a foldable smartphone began surfacing in mid-2018. And finally, in February 2019, we got to see the first-ever foldable smartphone in the Samsung Galaxy Fold.
Ever since then, there have at least four commercially available foldable smartphones – the Huawei Mate X, Motorola RAZR (2019), Samsung's Galaxy Z Flip, and the Huawei Mate Xs. There's also the Royole FlexPai and the Escobar Fold 2, but they're not as popular as the others. However, the market for foldable phones is still pretty niche and only a few of the daring early-adopters go for these phones, and the reason for this is quite obvious. Foldable smartphones are not as durable and they are way too expensive. But all that might be about to, thanks once again to Samsung.
Samsung Electronics has become more self-reliant
According to a new report, Samsung Electronics could be looking to manufacture foldable glass on its own which in turn could help the company lower the price of its foldable smartphones.
Until now, the Korean giant has been sourcing its foldable glass, which it calls UTG or Ultra-Thin Glass, from its sister company Samsung Display. If everything goes as planned, the price of foldable smartphones may drop gradually making them as affordable as ever. The project is currently in its very early stages and so ate foldable smartphones, therefore we might not see an immediate drop in product prices.
Samsung Ultra-Thin Glass technology
Currently, the clamshell Galaxy Z Flip is the cheapest foldable smartphone by Samsung, coming in at $1,399, which is not cheap in any sense, but it looks like even Samsung knows this. The Galaxy Z Flip is also the first foldable smartphone to use Samsung's UTG foldable glass technology.
Now, there have been plenty of reports that seem to suggest that Samsung's Ultra-Thin Glass is not glass at all. It is in fact, a thin sheet of plastic incorporated with fragments of glass to give it a more crystalline and glass-like feel and finish while keeping the flexibility of plastic.
Pure glass cannot bend, because it is very brittle and fragile. Though UTG has fragments of glass, it is still not as resistant to scratches and dents as glass. Nonetheless, UTG is the closest that foldable screens have gotten to glass.
High cost of manufacturing
According to SamMobile, the foldable Ultra-Thin Glass used in the Galaxy Z Flip has a thickness of 30 microns and each panel costs around $40 to make, which is way too expensive than the $2 it costs to make the conventional flat glass for normal phones. The high cost of manufacturing of the UTG panels is a major factor contributing to the overall high price of foldable smartphones.
The foldable glass used in the Galaxy Z Flip is manufactured by a firm called DOWOO INSYS, whose biggest shareholder is Samsung Display, who sources the glass from DOWOO and then fuses it with the OLED panel and supplies the final display panel to Samsung Electronics.
What Samsung intends to do to lower UTG cost
This process involving three different sources adds to the manufacturing costs, and if Samsung Electronics can manufacture the foldable glass on its own, it can compete directly with Samsung Display. This move could also open the door for other smartphone makers to start sourcing foldable glass from Samsung Display as Samsung Electronics becomes independent and self-reliant.
It is worth mentioning that Samsung Display holds a monopoly when it comes to mass-producing foldable glass for smartphone and competition from its own sister company could lead to competition between other manufacturers who will try to catch up with them, eventually bringing down the cost of foldable smartphones.
Meanwhile, Samsung Electronics has reportedly already started looking for partners to begin its new project and is currently in talks with multiple glass manufacturers to manufacture UTG for the company. This could lead to competition between the other foldable glass manufacturers to offer to manufacture the glass at the lowest price possible, which would eventually bring down the price of is the future foldable phones.