Foldable phone shipments are up, but the biggest brands in North America lag behind

OnePlus Open vs. Pixel Fold
(Image credit: Andrew Myrick / Android Central)

What you need to know

  • Huawei was the leader in global folding phone shipments for the first time in the first quarter of 2024.
  • The company overtook Samsung, which was the previous shipment leader, amid concerns that Samsung is becoming complacent with its Galaxy Z Fold and Z Flip brands.
  • Honor and Motorola found success outside of China, signaling that North American brands are struggling to attract buyers. 

According to the latest reports from analyst firms Counterpoint Research and IDC, the smartphone industry appears to have fully recovered following a down period. The overall market is expected to grow by four percent year-over-year, and foldable phones are particularly seeing widespread shipment growth. The interesting part of the data, which is based on the shipment results of Q1 2024, is that the biggest foldable players in North America aren't the ones growing. 

If you've been following the folding phone market in the U.S., that probably isn't all that surprising. Samsung was the only major manufacturer making folding phones widely available in North America for years, and that only recently changed with the emergence of Google and OnePlus last year. To call the sector competitive might not be entirely true. OnePlus reportedly has no plans to release a OnePlus Open successor any time soon, and the Google Pixel Fold is still a flawed device. Then you have Samsung, a company that seems to be resting on its laurels with the Z Fold and Z Flip brands.

With that context in mind, it makes sense that other brands are overtaking Samsung in terms of foldable shipments and growth. For the first time, Huawei is the leader, which may be shocking to North American users. Foreign brands aren't just winning in China, either. Companies like Honor and Motorola are finding success in other regions. All of this will put a lot of pressure on brands working in the North American market to improve, specifically Samsung with the upcoming Galaxy Z Fold 6 and Z Flip 6 series. 

What the numbers say

Porsche Design Honor Magic V2 RSR review

(Image credit: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central)

The figures for foldable shipments in Q1 2023 and Q1 2024, provided by Counterpoint, paint two completely different pictures. Last year, Samsung dominated the first quarter, representing 58% of all folding phone shipments worldwide. This is important to remember because Samsung's downturn in Q1 2024 can't be attributed to the Z Fold and Z Flip release cycles. Even though Samsung will likely see success following the launch of the Z Fold 6 and Z Flip 6, the company performed far better under the same conditions last year. 

Flash forward to the first quarter of this year, and the situation is completely flipped. Foldable phone shipments from Samsung decreased 42% year-over-year, and the company represented just 23% of global shipments in Q1 2024. By comparison, Huawei's shipments grew a whopping 257% year-over-year, allowing the company to claim the spot with a 35% share of global shipments. 

Aside from the movement among manufacturers, the type of foldable phones being purchased is also shifting. In Q1 2024, book-style foldables represented 55% of all folding phones shipped. It's the first time since 2021 that book-style foldables accounted for more sales than clamshell foldables. Put together, all the data points to consumers worldwide buying foldables other than those sold in North America. 

Honor and Motorola are winning outside of China

Porsche Design Honor Magic V2 RSR review

(Image credit: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central)

Huawei is an interesting case because while we can't discredit the company's success, it's impossible to talk about it without considering government sanctions. Tensions between the U.S. and China have made it difficult or impossible to buy and use Huawei devices outside of China. In some ways, it's more impressive that Huawei is succeeding in spite of trade restrictions. However, in this context, Huawei isn't really competing with North American brands. 

Honor and Motorola, on the other hand, are finding success outside of China. Both companies have seen expansive growth between Q1 2023 and Q1 2024. Motorola's folding phone shipments are up a staggering 1,473% year-over-year, driven by last year's Razr Plus and Razr 2023 devices. Honor's shipments are 460% year-over-year, which is still a wildly impressive figure. According to Counterpoint, Honor's Magic V2 foldable was the best-selling foldable phone in Western Europe in Q1 2024. 

Samsung's Z Fold 5 and Z Flip 5 are both natural competitors to the Honor Magic V2 and the Motorola Razr, respectively. The fact that consumers are shifting to Honor and Motorola phones instead just goes to show how Samsung is falling behind. 

This isn't surprising, considering the state of North American foldables

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 stacked on top of OnePlus Open with S Pen and Oppo Pen

(Image credit: Andrew Myrick / Android Central)

Samsung was the first to really make folding phones mainstream, and it has been the market leader in foldables from the beginning. However, it's clear that Samsung foldables don't offer the most cutting-edge technologies anymore. The last time we really saw an upgrade from a Z Fold device was with the Z Fold 3, as the Z Fold 4 and Z Fold 5 were both iterative improvements. Other phones have completely caught up, with the Honor Magic V2 offering a form factor about as thin as a slab-style phone. 

There's no better example of this than the OnePlus Open, which entered the U.S. market as basically a carbon copy of the OPPO Find N3. The OnePlus Open is widely considered the best folding phone in the U.S., and that's thanks to OPPO's tech. If Samsung—the South Korean electronics giant that has dominated the North American foldable market—wants to return to the top, it'll need to make future foldables competitive with those from Chinese brands. 

Brady Snyder

Brady is a tech journalist covering news at Android Central. He has spent the last two years reporting and commenting on all things related to consumer technology for various publications. Brady graduated from St. John's University in 2023 with a bachelor's degree in journalism. When he isn't experimenting with the latest tech, you can find Brady running or watching sports.