After the foldable smartphone, get ready for folding smartwatches

As smartphone sales slide, smartwatches continue to rise; could foldable models boost them further?
Written by Steve Ranger, Global News Director

While the launch of foldable smartphones has not been without its problems, smartwatches are likely to be getting the folding treatment soon too. 

It's still early days for smartwatches; many people are still put off by the brief battery life, boxy designs and paucity of must-have features. But tech vendors are still keen to push them as the next big thing as they hope that persuading consumers to buy smartwatches will boost profits and tie users into their flagging smartphone ecosystems, too. And while it might be a few years away, that could mean smartwatches will be going foldable. 

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The first quarter of 2019 saw a 48 percent year-over-year growth in smartwatch shipments, largely driven by Apple, Samsung, Fitbit, and Huawei, according to the latest research from tech researcher Counterpoint, which also said foldable smartwatches were a likely future development. 

Counterpoint associate director Brady Wang said: "Foldable displays are coming to smartwatches." 

He pointed to to the recently unveiled Nubia Alpha as an attempt to design a "smartphone + smartwatch" which has smartphone-style capabilities in a wrist-worn form factor. 

"However, we are still in nascent stages in the evolution of smartwatch form-factors. These new form-factors will need to excel on various metrics. We estimate flexible smartwatches will hit mainstream post-2025," he said. 

Image: Counterpoint

The smartwatch market continues to grow at a rapid pace, even as smartphone sales slide into decline. Apple Watch shipments grew 49 percent year-on-year in the first quarter of this year, despite the weak demand for the company's iPhones, according to Counterpoint. 

It said that Apple continues to focus on health-related features, like ECG and fall detection in the Apple Watch Series 4: the ECG capability in the Apple Watch is the most desirable feature, according to Counterpoint's consumer survey. Counterpoint said Samsung's smartwatch shipments grew 127 percent year-on-year largely thanks to the success of its latest Galaxy watch series, which came with better battery life as well as a very traditional round clockface design and cellular LTE connectivity. 

Huawei and Fitbit also saw shipments jump, while Imoo, Amazfit, Fossil and Garmin, all lost ground in the quarter according to analysts.   

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