Like most teenagers in the mid-2000s, the first cellphone my parents got me was a flip phone. It was a cute, Sonic blue flip phone from Sanyo (if anyone remembers that brand), and I was able to do almost everything I could on a smartphone today. Except for texting, thanks to Sprint’s four cents per character rates.
Teens today don’t get that same experience, but they now have something a little similar yet more advanced: a foldable phone. I’m not entirely sure what percentage of teens are carrying around a Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 or Galaxy Z Fold 3 in their pockets today compared to the iPhone, but Samsung said last Friday that foldable phones would comprise over 50% of its premium phones by 2025. This estimate is based on data from Omdia, saying that the Korean company sold a combined 7.1 million units of Galaxy Z Flip and Galaxy Z Fold through 2021, with the former device leading with 4.6 million shipments.
With the Galaxy Z Flip 4 and Galaxy Z Fold 4 coming out later this month, seeing foldable phones overtake regular smartphones within the next three years is an exciting prospect. To have Samsung pushing foldable phones into the market instead of Apple for once is something I really love to see. And this is coming from someone who defected from Android to iOS two-and-a-half years ago.
But more than that, the fact that flip phones are making a modern comeback fills 13-year-old-me with joy.
Flipping flip phones
You know how some retro technology has made a comeback in the last few years, like Polaroids and vinyl record players? The latter remains unchanged for music lovers, while the former has undergone design changes so you can turn your smartphone’s photo album into Polaroid pictures.
Flip phones have made a comeback, too, but Samsung flipped them, took their primitive designs, and incorporated them into smartphones to give them a nostalgic vibe. To wit, the Galaxy Z Flip 3 and Flip 4 retain the horizontal clamshell design of a regular flip phone, but instead of being a rectangular shape when closed, it’s as square as a compact mirror or a Game Boy Advance SP.
The Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Fold 4 also have a clamshell design, only it “folds” vertically like an eyeshadow palette or a Nintendo 3DS (sorry I keep mentioning Nintendo’s portable gaming systems, but they’re kind of my frame of reference). The best part about it is that you can use it as either a normal smartphone or fold it open like a tablet to see and watch everything on a bigger screen, depending on your preference.
A tech culture reset
The emergence of foldable phones had me convinced that the term “foldable phone” is Newspeak for “flip phone.” To put it simply, Samsung revamped flip phones for a new generation of smartphone users, as well as those who are already used to their devices having an open screen from sunrise to sunset ever since smartphones flooded the cellphone market in the last decade. I know that sentence came off as me sounding like an old geezer (I’m 28), but foldable phones may be a great cultural reset for everyone — even some of Silicon Valley’s biggest smartphone manufacturers.
Apple usually leads the smartphone industry with the new features for their iPhone, and Samsung and Android follow. But with foldable phones, it feels like the other way around. Samsung has been developing foldable phones since 2011, though it didn’t bring the devices to light until nearly a decade later.
Today, the Galaxy Z Flip 4 and Galaxy Z Fold 4 are on their way to the market, and we’re slowly building up to the idea of using a smartphone that bears some resemblance to the flip phones of yesteryear. Apple is coming out with the iPhone 14 in September, but for the next iPhone model, it should learn something from Samsung and consider making it a foldable phone — at least as an option for those who are tired of using a regular, open-screen smartphone. There are rumors of a foldable iPhone coming at some point, but I’d love to see it sooner rather than later.
I also like to think that Samsung created foldable phones to offset the frequent usage of regular smartphones. We’re all glued to our screens 24/7 as it is. By taking a retro piece of tech and repurposing it for the digital era, Samsung might be giving us permission to really, finally close up our phones and focus on things that really matter to us. I hope foldable phones become the new standard smartphone, because as much as we may not like to admit it, we could all use a break from our screens. And foldable flip phones like the Flip 4 could be the perfect antidote.
But no matter what form foldables take — flip phone or not — I love that Samsung is trying something different. Whether you want the Z Flip for fewer distractions or a Z Fold to get more done, they’re devices that are pushing the market forward in fun and exciting ways. And I love every bit of it.