You know those smug yoga types who pretend to come to class in search of inner calm but actually just want to show off how bendy they are?
Well, the same thing is now happening in the mobile industry.
“Engineers spent three years working on the hinge,” Huawei’s Consumer Group CEO Richard Yu said as he unveiled the company’s hotly anticipated foldable Mate X at an event at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
There was an intake of breath from the crowd as he held the phone up in the air. Then, with the weight of the media’s gaze upon him, he unfolded it as delicately as he might have a letter from a long-lost lover.
When the metamorphosis was complete, he held the enlarged eight-inch device flat in his hand, like a waiter bearing a tray. That was tablet mode.
The hinge technology enabling the transformation from a smartphone to a tablet-sized screen is dubbed ‘falcon’s wing’ and unsurprisingly, Huawei has patented it.
It could have chosen “butterfly” or “ladybird.” But the reference to the bird of prey is an apt description of how the company considers its own ascent.
“Six years ago, nobody knew us. Not even in China,” Yu said. “Today we’re one of the leading brands globally.”
Huawei’s CEO of Consumer Business Group Richard Yu unveiled the company’s foldable phone at an event in Barcelona
A brief history of foldable phones
The consequence of becoming a leading brand in the mobile industry is that you must compete in the race to build a phone capable of folding over itself as seamlessly as a seasoned yogi.
As the history of Huawei’s hinge makes clear, the battle has been raging for some time. But it was only in recent months that the feat was accomplished.
A Chinese firm called Royole was the first over the finishing line when it released the FlexPai in October. The device didn’t boast many impressive features apart from its bendiness though, and the many software glitches that occurred when switching between the smartphone and tablet modes prompted tech website The Verge to describe it affectionately as “charmingly awful.”
The next landmark in the history of foldable phones came last week in San Francisco, when Samsung, the world’s largest smartphone maker, unveiled the Galaxy Fold. While the device was well received by tech enthusiasts, more than a few eyebrows were raised at its $1,980 (€1,745) price tag.
And then there was what happened at Huawei’s event in Barcelona on Sunday afternoon.
While the Mate X’s flexibility may be its most headline-grabbing feature, there is much more to discover beyond the fold.
The phone is 5G-compatible, making it ready to embrace the newest and most powerful brand of cellular technology. It features a camera at both the front and the rear, which Yu claimed makes it a premium offering in the selfie game. It also has a dual SIM and turbo-fast charging capabilities.
Crucially, when folded over, the Mate X is slimmer than Samsung’s offering and when splayed out to its full size, boasts a larger display.
All of this suggests that a price tag similar to that of the Galaxy Fold might have been reasonable. But based on the audible gasps at the press conference, few people were expecting Huawei to go beyond it.
Huawei’s media event ended with an interpretative dance performance that seemed to mirror the huge media interest in the company’s new phone
After building tension by teasing the crowd with the prices of Huawei’s far less feverishly anticipated notebooks, Yu came out with the figure: $2,299.
“It’s very expensive,” he conceded.
Uh-huh! This is a phone entirely outside the price range of ordinary people.
So, the question arises: Should we care? Are foldable phones even worth talking about?
Not at dinner parties, perhaps. But in moments of personal reflection, it’s worth considering that the bendiness competition is only a manifestation of a much larger battle taking place behind the scenes.
After Sunday’s press conference, the media were invited to the display area, where exemplars of the Mate X were on display in guarded towers made of Perspex glass.
The rush to see them resembled the kind of scene you’d encounter on your way to an emergency exit in a burning building: urgent, purposeful and even desperate.
Against a backdrop of international concern about Huawei’s ties to the Chinese government and its potential to use 5G technology to spy on other countries, the focus on an overpriced gymnastic phone couldn’t have come at a better time.
As the pushing and shoving for a photograph continued, you could sense the falcon spreading its patented wings as it got ready to soar.
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