Shouldn’t we just be happy that foldable smartphones are finally here?

The Huawei Mate X is one of the first foldable smartphones, and like any ‘first’ product, it can be criticised. In fact, even Huawei knows that.

Throughout the company’s hands-on session in India, it didn’t let journalists fold or unfold the phone by themselves. Similarly, the company refused to answer three important questions:

How many folds can the screen take before it shows signs of wear and tear?

Does half a fold count as a full fold as far as the screen’s life is concerned?

Does the foldable screen produce the same colour space as other top-end OLEDs?

There’s a reason for all of this, and the company isn’t making any secrets of the same. Huawei is clear that though it is ready to show the Mate X to the world, this isn’t the final product it will ship. They’re close, but they aren’t there yet.

The Huawei Mate X in its unfolded (L) and folded forms.
The Huawei Mate X in its unfolded (L) and folded forms.

This isn’t even a first impression of the device. This is, in fact, a pre-first impression. And it’s about time that became a thing.

The Mate X looks stellar not just because it’s well designed, but because it’s just so new. We haven’t seen anything like it so far, so I’m not sure whether my brain is reacting to the ‘newness’ or whether it actually is a great looking phone. Remember how iPhones looked great before everyone else did their versions?

On the other hand it’s certainly a pretty fast phone. That much is clear from how fast the phone adapts its UI to the fold. But did anyone really think foldable phones wouldn’t be fast in this day and age?

That’s just the thing. My first impressions of the Mate X is that it’s not ready yet. It feels like that, and Huawei certainly knows that.

And that is great, because foldable smartphones are the only thing close to real (and not evolutionary) innovation that we’ve seen in smartphone design in years. I’m glad they’re here and we should all be willing to wait for companies to perfect their own work.

There’s only one thing that bugs me though. In the minutes that I saw the Mate X for, and the videos of these phones I’ve seen, I saw no software innovation.

The curved part of Huawei Mate X's screen is just a bunch of black pixels.
The curved part of Huawei Mate X's screen is just a bunch of black pixels.

Every hardware innovation has been aided, in no small part, by software innovation. The software on the Mate X and other foldable phones is plain Android. There’s no effort, except in changing screen orientations (which was inevitable), to even do something clever with a screen that folds. Will we really use foldable phones for split screen apps only? Could Huawei not have put a clock on the curved part of the screen when it’s folded? And can Samsung think of something better? In fact, can the bar that holds the cameras on the Mate X have a separate battery that charges the phone whenever it is in ‘phone mode’? All questions worth asking.

Foldable screens are here, and unless the universe has other plans, they’re here to stay. But, it will be a while before they’re perfect and we will just have to wait for that

My Reads Logout