You’ve got to know when to fold ’em

Lots to agree with in Owen Williams piece on “Foldable phones: right tech, wrong place?”, starting with this:

If I consider it for a while, the largest advantage would be to merge the tablet category with the phone, but it’s a confusing proposal: do consumers desire a phone and tablet that will require charging even more often? Perhaps foldables are like adding a second monitor to your desktop: useful for power users to get a bit more space, but most people don’t care.

There’s two other problems with foldable phones of the kind we’re seeing at the moment. First, when unfolded they are too wide to thumb type on, but too narrow to have a meaningful keyboard. Second, the most popular size of tablet is around 10-11in: halve that and you have a very wide or very narrow phone, depending on which axis you put the fold.

Foldables actually make more sense applied to larger devices, such as the iPad Pro or something more complex along the lines of the Surface Book. While I never really wished my phone was a tablet, I’ve certainly mulled the idea of a tablet and laptop combined, adaptable to the situation I’m in, without the awkward detached keyboard kicking around somewhere.

Surface Book, for example, could simply be a single ultra-thin device that folds into itself to become a slate, rather than detaching. The lower half, in ‘laptop’ mode could transform into a simple display-based keyboard, and adapt dynamically to the form-factor it finds itself in at any moment.

I’m not sure about this. Part of the advantage of tablet form devices is that you don’t have to have the additional weight and bulk of the keyboard. Surface Book works because if you take off the base, it weighs less than half as much, making it easy to use when held. Surface Pro and iPad Pro work because you can remove the keyboard altogether and still have a usable slate.

In theory I would love an iPad Pro that folded in half to reduce its size. In practice, that would more than double the thickness once you account for the inevitable hinge mechanism. Folding devices are just bulky devices, and who wants that?

Most of the tech news sites are going absolutely crazy over folding devices. I just don’t think they have any kind of use case yet. Perhaps they’ll find one, but I can think of a million technologies in the past which never made it past this stage.