Chinese technology firm Honor will launch a foldable flip phone this year, CEO George Zhao told CNBC at Mobile World Congress 2024. It marks the company’s first foray into the vertical-folding style of smartphone that has been popularized by brands like Samsung and Motorola.

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BARCELONA — Honor will launch a foldable flip phone this year, the company’s CEO told CNBC, marking the Chinese technology firm’s first foray into the vertical-folding style of smartphone that has been popularized by brands like Samsung and Motorola.

“Foldables” refer to smartphones with displays that bend. There are two styles right now on the market — smartphones that fold like a book and those that fold vertically like an old school flip phone but without a visible hinge.

The move to launch a flip foldable is in line with Honor’s push into the premium end of the market where it’s looking to challenge companies like Samsung and Apple.

“This year we are preparing for the flip phone launch — now that we are internally in the final stage,” George Zhao, CEO of Honor, told CNBC in an exclusive interview at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

“We are very positive about foldables for the future.”

Honor already has a number of foldable phones on the market. The latest one is the Honor Magic V2 that it launched last year. But all of Honor’s current foldables are the book style of the folding device.

Honor already has a number of smartphones on the market that fold like a book, such as the Magic V2 that was launched in July 2023 shown here. The Chinese tech company is now preparing to launch a vertical-folding style smartphone, its CEO George Zhao told CNBC at the Mobile World Congress.

Honor

The entry into flip foldables will expose Honor to a different price point. The flip style of phones, such as Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip 5 are often priced cheaper than the horizontal-style folding devices.

Foldables are seen as high-end devices in the world of smartphones. Sales for premium smartphones, those over $600, likely grew in 2023 while the overall market declined, according to Counterpoint Research. This is one reason that Honor is targeting the high-end market.

Sales of foldable phones are set to rise 40% year-on-year to 22 million units in 2024, according to Counterpoint Research. But Neil Shah, partner at Counterpoint Research, said demand for the flip foldable may be slowing because “expectations of aggressive pricing of the flip form factor has been difficult.”

“I believe this will create some market gap for newer vendors to enter or expand in the flip segment and test out the market.”

Honor, a spin-off from Huawei in 2020 as a result of U.S. sanctions, has sought to thrive as an independent brand. Honor found early success in China and its focus is now on growing in international markets, where it doesn’t yet feature in the top 5 players globally.

Zhao said his hope in the next three-to-five years is that sales volumes overseas exceed China.

Honor’s AI push

Like most device makers at MWC, Honor touted the potential of AI.

For Zhao, the value of the technology will come when a device is able to anticipate what you’d like to do next.

For example, you may get a message from a friend to meet for dinner and the device will be able to anticipate whether you want to open the name of the restaurant in a mapping app or reply to the message.

“In the future, Honor’s strategy is AI to reconstruct the user interaction. It will be intent-based, the user interaction. So maybe when you interact with your phone, it can understand what is your requirement,” Zhao said.

At MWC, Honor showed off an AI-powered feature on its Magic 6 Pro handset that can track the user’s eyes.

The company also showed off a demonstration of a chatbot built on Meta’s Llama 2 AI model.

Last year, Honor announced its intention to go public. Zhao said preparations are being made for the initial public offering but there is no final timing or destination for the listing.

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