Above the fold

Anthony Main, managing director of The Distance, considers what 2019’s new folding phones will mean for business owners with websites and apps.

With Samsung’s announcement of its folding Galaxy X smartphone, following the launch of the FlexPai by Royole Corp and rumours of similar devices from Motorola, LG, Huawei and Apple launching in 2019, many app owners are becoming anxious about how these devices will impact their apps and websites.

From all the recent announcements, patent applications and design concepts, the main goal for the manufacturers seems to be to design devices which offer a smaller, more convenient form factor but with the benefit of large screen real estate. The demand for bigger pocket-sized devices has been clear, as all device manufacturers (including Apple – despite Steve Jobs’ best wishes) now offer oversized pocket-bulging devices.

As this trend seems to be increasing, and with the introduction of devices which unfold to support such demands, usage patterns will change and users and app owners will find new ways to take advantage of the technology advances.

These new devices present a number of opportunities. Multiple screens could mean that apps can segment and highlight key pieces of app information, such as notifications and live data across the user interface (UI).

The additional screen space could allow for multiple apps to be used simultaneously. This would be perfect for ‘second screen’ apps such as live voting on the X-Factor or tweeting about the latest celeb gossip whilst reading your news feed. Samsung has confirmed that the Galaxy X will support three apps running in parallel.

Larger Keyboards will provide more space for the app UI and allow users to enter data and create content more easily. And as Apple continues to promote how productive its iPads are, the extra screen space will enable users to be more productive and use their devices more efficiently. In turn, users will demand more feature-packed apps. Could this mean the end of traditional, fully-functioning computers in the home?

Get ready for the fold
So how do you prepare for the arrival of these new devices? You should keep track of hardware announcements over the next 12 months to understand the variety of devices coming to market, and the varying opportunities they provide. Platform announcements will be important too. It is unlikely that app developers will invest in dedicated app versions for these new devices until support is provided directly by the operating system, but Google showed its support for them by supporting Samsung at its recent product announcement.

Bear in mind also that each foldable device is likely to be different (based upon the patents) and their uptake will determine which features are worth supporting from an app perspective. App owners will need to evaluate the options and balance the ROI on a device-by-device basis.

Responsive Design is another factor to consider. Smartphones and tablets come in a wide variety of sizes, resolutions and aspect ratios, and best practice has been to design app interfaces to resize to scale to each device’s screen. Following this rule this will give an app the best opportunity for the unknowns on the horizon.

So what’s the timeline for these new devices? The FlexPai is already available but in limited markets. The Galaxy X is expected to be demonstrated at CES early in the New Year or at Mobile World Conference in February, when we expect other manufacturers to announce their own devices.

When it comes to operating system releases, both Apple and Google generally only release major updates to iOS and Android in Q3, so we wouldn’t expect large scale adoption to happen until then. However, device manufacturers could develop bespoke Software Development Kits (SDKs) to allow app owners to harness device-specific hardware features well before they are adopted by the operating systems. Samsung specifically announced the device at its technical event, solely to drive adoption by app developers. In addition, most platforms already support flexible screen sizes and, therefore, device support may be possible from the outset, so preparation will be essential.

Google joining Samsung during its recent announcement reinforces the changing market, and Google clearly has plans to support new form factors in its Android operating system.

App owners should reach out to their developers or specialist app agencies who will be best prepared to offer advice and guidance on how they can prepare their apps and websites and plan for how they can be ready to take full advantage of this technological evolution.