The fast-growing foldable market is looking at its first big decline... caused by the iPhone 14

The fast-growing foldable market is looking at its first big decline... caused by the iPhone 14
While the smartphone market as a whole hasn't been doing great for quite some time now, suffering decline after decline caused by reasons as diverse as a pandemic, global chip shortage, and uncertain macroeconomic conditions, many research firms were counting on the foldable segment to help turn the industry's fortunes around... eventually.

But even though recent models like the Galaxy Z Flip 4 and Z Fold 4 earned solid enough reviews to suggest the product category might be sufficiently mature to break into the mainstream, worldwide sales are expected to drop (for the first time) rather than continue to grow at a steady pace or register the sudden explosion certain pundits had predicted in the past.

Great start for the Z Flip 4 and Z Fold 4, modest follow-through 

For the time being, the market is still in decent shape, jumping to a new record-setting global shipment score of more than 6 million units during Q3 2022 largely driven by the early strength of, you guessed it, the aforementioned Z Flip 4 and Z Fold 4.

Samsung's latest foldable powerhouse were commercially released in late August, thus needing just a little over a month to account for 52 and 27 percent of the entire quarter's sales respectively. If our math is correct, that's more than 3 million Z Flip 4 units and roughly 1.6 million Z Fold 4 copies that the world's largest smartphone manufacturer managed to push to early adopters by the end of September, which are not exactly Galaxy S-level numbers but are definitely pretty good.

The problem is the iPhone 14 family entered the global stage in mid-September, and although Apple is reportedly still several years away from throwing its hat into the foldable handset ring, the company's decidedly conventional new phones totally and completely stole Samsung's limelight.

Either that or consumer interest in the Galaxy Z Fold 4 and Z Flip 4 just so happened to wane in late September and early October, causing a substantial decline for the whole foldable market in Q4.

The year's last quarter is obviously not over yet, but DSCC (Display Supply Chain Consultants) analysts are forecasting a terrible, horrible, no good drop of 25 percent compared to Q4 2021 and 48 percent (!!!) compared to Q3 2022. That's right, the iPhone 14 quartet is expected to be nearly single-handedly responsible for a reduction in (almost) half of worldwide foldable shipments to just a little over 3 million units in the October - December 2022 timeframe.

The big growth days are over

As the segment's clear leader, Samsung will naturally be hit by the aforementioned decline the hardest, losing exactly half of its 5.2 million unit sales registered in Q3 2022 going into Q4 while retaining a dominant 82 percent share of the shrinking market.

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The shrinkage is expected to continue for Samsung, mind you, and that massive slice of the pie could contract to less than 50 percent as early as Q2 2023.

On the bright side, the overall foldable market is still projected to grow by a decent 33 percent for the whole of next year compared to 2022, when said progress is likely to finish at a very solid 64 percent thanks to three great quarters.

Then again, even that large-sounding 64 percent figure is significantly below the original 94 percent expectations, amounting to a grand total of 13 million unit shipments for 2022. If you add in 33 percent, you get a likely sales result of around 17 million units in 2023, of which Samsung could account for a 72 percent share, down from 78 percent in 2022 and no less than 88 percent in 2021.

That obviously means smaller vendors like Oppo and Huawei might rise and new entrants like Google could make an immediate impact, although the Galaxy Z Flip 4 and Z Fold 4 are expected to continue leading the model charts in Q4 2022, Q1 2023, and possibly beyond.

The Huawei P50 Pocket and Galaxy Z Flip 3 followed in third and fourth places in Q3 2022, with the Huawei Pocket S likely to trump both those devices and win bronze for the final three months of the year.

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