LG hints strongly at 5G foldable phones for 2019

In its recent financials, LG dropped in a tantalising morsel for the future of its smartphones in 2019: phones that come with 5G and could very well be foldable.

We've heard rumor of a flexible smartphone from the South Korean brand for a while now, with the first thoughts being that it would arrive at CES this year, but it seems that it's tipped for later in 2019.

In the latest financial results, LG believes it will have a strong year for its mobile division thanks to pushing ' 5G products and smartphones featuring different form factors'. That's likely to be on top of the more 'normal' LG G8 we expect to see at MWC 2019 in a few weeks' time.

While it could be argued that 'different form factors' could be a mere flip phone or smaller 'standard' smartphone, flexible handsets are set to be the headline devices of this year, offering new form factors that bring real differentiation to the market.

If LG were to just be reinventing the normal black rectangle, it's hardly likely to believe that this would help propel it back towards growth.

With Samsung's Galaxy X / F handset rolling towards production, it's seems almost certain that LG will unleash something to compete, especially since it's been so vocal in proclaiming its own flexible displays in the past (and was one of the winners of CES this year with a rollable TV).

Still work to do

LG still has something of an issue in that, despite posting a group profit, the mobile division reported higher losses year on year as the brand continues to struggle in a competitive smartphone landscape.

The full-year operating loss for the mobile arm grew to $700m, where the overall business posted an operating profit of nearly $2.4bn.

It remains to be seen whether these losses can continue to be carried within the business, but having a mobile division and demonstrating innovation in this category is still an attractive move for an electronics firm, offering a demonstration platform for its other technologies in things like audio and the connected home.

That said, LG will really need to step up and offer some true differentiation in the smartphone market in 2019, as while it's got strong heritage in screen technology and audio quality, for instance, the likes of Samsung and Apple still maintain a healthy lead in the overall market.

Newer Chinese brands like OnePlus, Xiaomi and Honor are offering cheaper phones with high spec, while Huawei has rapidly moved up the smartphone charts by fusing strong performance in its flagship smartphones with hefty marketing campaigns.

With that in mind, LG really needs both a truly innovative handset and one that's marketed appropriately to start to head back towards growth for its mobile division, so it will be interesting to see if it throws both 5G and flexible technology into something new this year.