Ever since the first foldable phones were foisted upon us, I’ve been struggling to understand their purpose.

They’re cool, sure — and technologically speaking, they’re incredibly impressive. But from a practical, ten-fingered human perspective, what benefit do they actually provide? I’ve yet to hear a single unambiguous answer. And that’s to say nothing of all the significant downsides and compromises they require.

At first, I assumed the foldable phone fad was similar to other questionable-benefit smartphone trends of the moment — counterproductive elements like “waterfall displays,” cutouts in the active viewing areas of screens in exchange for smaller borders around said panels, and heck, even 5G — in that it was ultimately conceived as a way to make appliance-like devices seem new, exciting, and meaningfully different from their predecessors (and thus suddenly worth buying at a time when most of us are content to stick with our current phones for increasingly long periods).

But the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve come to the conclusion that something even deeper is going on in this domain. Plain and simple, I don’t think device-makers actually want people to buy their current foldable phones, nor do they want tech writers to cover them closely in the way they’d cover a typical high-profile product arrival.

The foldable phones of the moment, I suspect, exist mostly to serve as marketing vehicles for the brands behind ’em. They aren’t about the experiences they provide — which consistently fall short of being commendable, let alone exceptional; they’re about the idea they represent that the company whose name is stamped on the exterior is an innovator, a leader, a hardware authority paving the way to an exciting new mobile-tech future.

And that idea resonates only if you don’t look too closely.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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