Domestic foldable phone shipments surge 100% for 4th year; Huawei, OPPO, Honor lead.

The prestigious market research firm IDC recently released a report on China’s foldable smartphone shipments for the year 2023 and specifically for the fourth quarter (Q4). The data in the report suggests that the Chinese foldable smartphone market experienced a shipment volume of approximately 7.007 million units in 2023, an impressive 114.5% increase from the previous year. This marked the fourth consecutive year of over 100% growth since the first foldable phone was launched in China in 2019. During Q4 2023 alone, the shipment volume for foldable phones in China was around 2.771 million units, which translates to a year-over-year increase of 149.6%. When it comes to specific brands, Huawei continues to lead in shipments, followed by OPPO and Honor in the second and third positions, respectively.

Nonetheless, IDC’s data also revealed a curious trend; the market share of vertically and horizontally foldable phones has been fluctuating, with the vertical format experiencing a decline. In 2023, vertical foldable phones only accounted for 31.9% of the market, a reduction of 10.4 percentage points compared to 2022. On the other hand, horizontal foldables remained the mainstream, claiming a 68.1% market share for 2023. As a result, recent rumors about domestic smartphone brands pausing the development of vertical foldable phones aren’t unexpected. Speculation suggests that 2024 could be a year of growth for vertical foldables, but this remains to be seen pending further market developments.

Looking at the rankings based on shipment volume, Huawei dominated in 2023 with a 37.4% market share, solidifying its position as the market leader in foldable phones; OPPO claimed the second spot with an 18.3% share, while Honor followed closely with 17.7%. Samsung came in fourth with an 11.0% share, and vivo fifth with 9.7%. Xiaomi, although in sixth place, secured a 4.6% market share. Lenovo, despite releasing several models, only managed a 1.4% share. It’s worth noting that since its launch, Huawei’s Mate X5 has been perpetually in a state of marked-up sales, propelling Huawei once again to the top spot for the year.

Moreover, Huawei recently introduced its new generation vertical foldable phone, the Huawei Pocket2, making it the ninth foldable product Huawei has released since 2019. According to official announcements, the device has been upgraded in terms of communication technology, foldable screen flatness and reliability, and camera capabilities. In terms of communication, the Huawei Pocket 2 is the first in the foldables segment to support two-way Beidou satellite messaging. Reflecting on industry trends, since January this year, smartphone manufacturers including Honor and OPPO have launched phones with satellite communication capabilities. It is generally believed that satellite communication penetration in China is set to increase rapidly.

Beyond communication features, smartphone manufacturers are increasingly focusing on mitigating screen creasing issues and boosting device reliability. Whether it’s in the design of the hinge mechanisms or the choice of materials used in hinge components, brands are continually innovating and refining. For instance, the Huawei Pocket 2 comes equipped with a new Xuanwu Droplet Hinge, improving screen flatness by 62% compared to its predecessors. Huawei has also incorporated a robust Rocket Steel into the hinge mechanism.

In response to rumors that some domestic smartphone brands were planning to halt vertical foldable phone development, OPPO quickly clarified that their foldable product lineup is progressing as planned. According to data from several market research agencies, OPPO’s vertical foldable model, the Find N3 Flip, led the ‘small foldables’ category in the Chinese market in 2023. Other major brands have not yet responded to the rumors.

When it comes to Honor, the brand’s foldable screen products caught many eyes last year, particularly the Magic V2 with its significant improvements in performance, imaging, and battery life. It also set a new standard for the thickness of horizontal foldables, entering the millimeter era, and subsequent product launches focused on a lightweight tactile experience and high aesthetic value. This approach has contributed significantly to Honor’s rapid rise in the foldable phone market.

It’s important to note that the Chinese foldable phone market seems to currently favor horizontal over vertical folding products. In 2023, horizontal foldables claimed a 68.1% market share, while vertical formats held approximately one-third of the market. According to IDC analysis, despite the convenience of carrying, consumers are still lacking essential use-case scenarios for vertical foldables, and there is a noticeable gap in user experience compared to regular smartphones at the same price point. There’s also room for improvement in the quality of these products. IDC China’s Senior Analyst Guo Tianxiang pointed out, “The use cases for vertical foldables have not been fully discovered yet, and targeting potential users as ‘fashionable young women’ could put the products in direct competition with Apple.”

In terms of pricing dynamic, IDC data indicates that the market share of foldable phones priced above $1,000 has dropped from 81.0% a year ago to 66.5% in 2023, a decrease of 14.5 percentage points. Meanwhile, the market share for foldable phones priced between $800 and $1,000 increased by 6.7 percentage points to 18.8%, and those in the $600 to $800 range grew by 7.2 percentage points to 14.1%. Due to the overall cost reduction and the fact that vertical foldables tend to be priced lower, the price range for foldable phones has even reached the $400 to $600 segment in 2023.

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