Foldable Phones: A challenge or disaster for UI/UX designers?

Smartphone manufacturers are always updating their products with the latest technology today. Improving what really needs to be taken so their products are always gain consumer interest and being sold in the market. Not left behind, foldable smartphones are going to flood the competition and being more recognized in these recent years. The screen-bending smartphones have uniqueness far above the current mainstream flat screen smartphones. The screen can be folded like a book, taking the paper-like form so the user can flip the screen into half of its overall screen size. But the phone is still far beyond perfection. The research and improvisation are still in the process to enhance the design and usability of this smartphone type, yet some big brands like Samsung, LG, and Motorola already sold their first and second generation of foldable phones.

The rise of foldable phones can’t be separated from this digital age where almost all citizens of the world are exposed to the internet in their daily life, especially smartphone usage as a platform that bridges human interaction with the digital world. Every year there will be newer smartphones being released with the latest design and technology. So foldable phone is one of the newest technology that can be applied to a smartphone. But they’re still a problem found after the phone is released, the interest rate of consumer towards this latest smartphone is low. According to a PCMag study from the US correspondent, there are 11,374 people who fill out the questionnaire form about foldable phones. They found out that 82% of correspondents said that they have zero interest in folding smartphones. Although, Samsung reportedly has been selling their Galaxy Fold for almost 1 million devices in 2019 alone. So there still be fans who bought it or haters who mocking it. Not because the design or technology is ugly, but more on the device is keeping to be broken anytime soon. The fear of something that they didn’t really know about. A new technology that no one guarantees about its usability with a just few years of trial and besides the complexity of the device that sometimes makes users confused.

When talking about design and usability, there comes the scene for the UI/UX designers about foldable phones. With this new and latest technology applied to folding smartphones, can they really deliver the design as it should be in the other type of smartphones? Can they challenge themself to create the right UI yet still applicable and useful enough for the consumers? or is it a disaster that can ruin their years of work?

With this new and latest technology applied to folding smartphones, can they really deliver the design as it should be in the other type of smartphones?

Is it Challenge or Disaster?

The experience

The foldable phone itself had already an enormous amount of love and hate speech among the consumers. Some people are like to have a bigger screen to please their visual needs, but they don’t want to be bothered by the size that isn’t convenient enough. So basically foldable phone is made to fulfill this kind of problem among smartphone users. They could have a bigger screen size yet the device can be folded and throw in the pocket on the go.

But as I said before, foldable phones are still in debate over these years. The unique features that allow users to have one big screen or two bent screens for multiple productivities have two sides of the sword. The experience on its feature will be different, for some people with multi workflow and productivity may find it useful for them. The usability of this kind of device can help them execute their projects by divide the screen in half, one side for chatting and the other side for calculating for example. It’s a shortage besides have actual work on laptops or pc that inconvenience while being mobile. But on the other hand, common users who spent their time on smartphones almost on social media and entertainment only could find the foldable device as a complicated one. How the apps are work inside the phone may very different from the usual smartphone device they already have before. Not to mention the amount of money they spent to bring home a folded phones today. Almost all new folded phones started around $1000 or even more. High prices are not for everyone, right?

The visual appearance a.k.a the UI design of this phone could be very different from the regular one. If the usual smartphone devices with flat screens are just needed one side of the front-facing UI, the folded phones would have multiple UI design according to their screen flexibility. When folded, the designers must be able to separate one UI design into two sides of the screen. Keeping it still relevant both from the front-facing and back folded screens. It obviously could take more time for designers to finish the design than the regular one. The multiple screens should be works normally on both sides. If designers were careless to comprehend the whole design it could be a disaster for the user experience while using the phone. Who would have an irrelevant feature on the app that actually the same on both sides of the screen?

Aspect ratio

The screen is the main feature here in foldable phones. They hold almost 80% portion of the whole phone, yet become the riskiest part of the device. Imagine if it drops and the screen hits hard, so be gone pixels! The bigger the screen it has, the bigger the aspect ratio it represents. When today’s smartphones are commonly preserved in the 16:9 or 18:9 ratio for a better experience of on-screen entertainment. The bigger brother, tablets, are commonly used the 4:3 screen size ratio, makes it wider for the visual delivery. When it comes to foldable phones, the screen ratio is a little bit changed throughout the device conditions. As the device had multiple screen functionality, it also delivered different aspect ratios for the visual. When folded, foldable phones had the 16:9 ratio as the same as the other usual smartphone devices. But the ratio will change to 3:4 when the whole screen opened as a flat one in portrait. Making it 21% bigger than the device was folded. When the device turned around as landscape mode, it becomes wider in 3:2 ratio which 33% bigger than the first.

Thickness

Another disadvantage while designing UI/UX for foldable phones is the thickness of the device itself. With its gigantic screen size makes designers are difficult to adapt the design for a more usable and convenient device. The thickness can be doubled when folded, which means the experience while holding the device is merely not so practical as the usual phones. It will affect the UI delivery too, as the users can’t easily operate or handle the foldable phones with just one hand. Designers may take more time to create a UI that had the flexibility to change throughout the foldable phone form. From the folded, opened, or stretched screen.

The curve

Last but not least, as the foldable phones had the feature of their bend-screen makes designers must concern about their UI/UX design on the curve itself. The part of the screen that bent much like mimicking a book when folded. The experience while interacting with the curve should be flawless and not much different from each facing screen. The UI also needs to be correlated between each screen. How it will change the content visual delivery? when it is bent, the texts, images, or videos could be warped. So, designers should be able to deliver their best work to create a fully functional yet attractive UI on foldable phones.

These were little insights on having difficulties as UI/UX designers when facing foldable phones and their overall features. Indeed it could be a challenge for them to test and improve their skillset on UI/UX. Or maybe it could end their career when they failed to fetch with the foldable phone's uniqueness.

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Contributor: Abdul Hamid

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