Honor launched its foldable Magic V2 on July 12, 2023, starting with the Chinese market.


BARCELONA – Honor will launch a foldable flip phone this year, the company’s executive told CNBC, marking the Chinese tech firm’s first foray into the vertically folding smartphone style that has been popularized by brands such as Samsung and Motorola.

“Foldable” refers to smartphones with displays that bend. There are two styles on the market right now – smartphones that fold like a book, and ones that fold vertically like an old-school flip phone, but with no 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 aims to challenge the likes of Samsung and An apple.

“This year we’re gearing up to launch a flip phone — now that we’re in the final stages internally,” George Zhao, Honor’s CEO, told CNBC in an exclusive interview at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

“We are very positive about foldable devices for the future.”

Honor already has a number of foldable phones in the market. The latest is the Honor Magic V2 which was launched last year. But all of Honor’s current foldable devices are in the book style of the foldable device.

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

Foldable devices are seen as high-end devices in the smartphone world. Sales of premium smartphones, those over $600, are likely to grow in 2023, while the overall market has declined, according to Counterpoint Research. This is one of the reasons why Honor is targeting the high-end market.

Sales of foldable phones are expected to grow 40% year-over-year to 22 million units in 2024, according to Counterpoint Research. But Neil Shah, a partner at Counterpoint Research, said demand for the flip foldable could slow because “expectations for aggressive pricing on the flip form factor are difficult.”

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

Honor, spun off from Huawei in 2020 as a result of US sanctions, is looking to thrive as an independent brand. Honor achieved early success in China and its focus is now on growing in international markets, where it is not yet a top 5 player globally.

Zhao said his hope in the next three to five years is for overseas sales volume to surpass China.

Pushing Honor’s AI

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 predict what you might want to do next.

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

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

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

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

Last year, Honor announced its intention to go public. Zhao said preparations are underway for the initial public offering, but there is no definitive time or destination for the listing.