Skip to Content

Data Sheet—Foldable Phones at Mobile World Congress, Huawei’s Global Blitz, SEC vs. Elon Musk Redux

This is the web version of Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily newsletter on the top tech news. To get it delivered daily to your in-box, sign up here.

The Mobile World Congress in Barcelona always has a bit of carnival barker’s edge, as everyone from giant phonemakers to the most obscure startups vie for the attention of some 100,000 attendees. This year, in addition to the usual packed hands on areas for playing with the latest devices from Samsung, Sony, and others there are a couple of autonomous air taxis you can sit in for a “ride” in virtual reality, a Batman versus Scarecrow VR game, and some kind of Google scavenger hunt that was little too convoluted for this busy conference goer.

But it’s a couple of the items that you can’t touch that are drawing the biggest crowds. Samsung, Huawei and TCL have all announced one form or another of phones that unfold into larger-screened tablets. And they’re all here on site–locked up in sealed glass cases. Samsung’s Galaxy Fold, which has a phone screen on the outside and opens like a book with a separate 7.3-inch screen on the inside, is set in a mini funhouse hall of mirrors display case that makes it hard to see the sides. That may be because the device is on the thicker and heavier side compared to the thin phones we’ve grown used to carrying.

When I sat down with Justin Denison, Samsung’s senior VP of mobile products, he was almost giddy in discussing the Fold, though he didn’t bring one along for closer inspection. Starting at almost $2,000, I’m not sure I’m as excited as Denison about the Fold’s signature feature of placing three mobile apps on screen at once. And even he concedes it’s a bit of a work in progress.

“I definitely think this device is for an early adopter,” he says. “Typically your early adopters are the ones that engage first, that find the most value in that type of innovation.”

TCL said it was holding off a year before announcing actual folding products, hoping to get under the $1,000 price level. As you’d expect, Denison hinted Samsung’s products would do the same. “With any technology innovation that takes (hold), you will tend to expect it to move down the portfolio but we’re not making any particular announcements or promises at this time,” he says. There will be a lot more to say when review units get into reporter’s hands ahead of the expected April 26 launch date.

Some people have been more excited about Huawei’s seemingly thinner Mate X device, which will start at $2,600. Here, the folding screen is on the outside. When the device is closed in phone mode, about half of the 8-inch display can be used on the front and half on the back. You unfold it outwards to get the tablet mode. It’s also locked up on display here although easier to see in an all-clear glass case. A friendly Huawei staffer even snapped a picture of the back hinge side for me. The shipping date of the middle of the year is a little vague, however, and Huawei phones don’t have wide distribution in the United States.

There’s obviously great utility in having a device that’s as small and light weight as a phone but offering a much larger screen when you want it. On the other hand, early versions will have trade-offs, like the higher prices, heftier sizes and likely software oddities. I think I’ll wait for the second generation. How about you?

Aaron Pressman
@ampressman
aaron.pressman@fortune.com

NEWSWORTHY

Congress is in session. Springing off Aaron’s column above, here are other goings on at the world’s biggest phone-fest. Microsoft showed off the next generation of its virtual reality headset, the HoloLens 2, which is cheaper and lighter, but still designed for businesses rather than consumers. Google is reportedly working on a budget-friendly, “lite” version of its Pixel phone. In March, people will be able to buy HTC’s blockchain-enabled Exodus 1 phone without cryptocurrency starting at $699.

My way or the Hua-way. Chinese telecom gear-maker Huawei is the center of attention at this year’s Mobile World Congress. In a keynote address, Huawei’s chairman, Guo Ping, said there’s “no evidence” that the company’s 5G network equipment poses a national security threat, as U.S. officials have claimed. Meanwhile, the company has unleashed a global advertising offensive.

SEC vs. Elon. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has reportedly asked a New York judge to hold the Tesla and SpaceX CEO in contempt of court for allegedly violating a condition of his settlement with the regulator last year, per the Wall Street Journal. The SEC is supposedly claiming that Musk’s recent tweets about Tesla’s production goals for 2019 consist of material information not pre-approved by the company. Musk, of course, responded the only way he knows how, by making noise on Twitter: “Something is broken with SEC oversight,” he wrote.

Microsoft CEO defends the military. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is not going to let employees’ gripes over the company’s military contracts squash its work with the U.S. Army, as happened at Google. “We made a principled decision that we’re not going to withhold technology from institutions that we have elected in democracies to protect the freedoms we enjoy,” Nadella said in response to a worker-led petition.

You down with XRP? Yeah, you know me. Cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase isn’t going to sit around and wait for U.S. regulators to decide whether certain cryptocurrencies, such as XRP, qualify as securities. The company decided to start letting people trade the virtual coin on its site yesterday. The price of XRP jumped 10% on the news.

Etsy bitsy spider. Etsy’s sales rose 47% to $200 million as more merchants and customers flock to the online marketplace. Shares in the company are trading at all-time highs around $56. One of the company’s tactics involves pushing vendors to reduce or eliminate shipping fees.

ON THE MOVE

After 12 years, Ev Williams, cofounder and onetime CEO of Twitter, is stepping down from the company’s board. Formerly the rival of Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s present CEO, Williams was perceived as “a bit of a counterbalance” to the leader, as Recode put it. Williams tweeted that the appointment was “overwhelmingly interesting, educational — and, at times, challenging.”…Indra Nooyi, former CEO and chair of PepsiCo, has been named to the board at Amazon. She is the fifth woman to become a director at the e-commerce juggernaut, where she will be part of the audit committee…Reggie Fils-Aime, president and chief operating officer of Nintendo of America, one of the company’s key pitchmen, is retiring this year…Dane Butswinkas, Tesla’s general counsel, is leaving the company after just two months in the post.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Heat death of the universe. New computer simulations published in the scientific journal Nature Geoscience show that the atmospheric accumulation of carbon dioxide could dissolve stratocumulus clouds. Scientists forecast that, with less cloud cover, the world’s surface temperature could rise as high as 8 to 10 degrees Celsius in addition to the warmth caused by the greenhouse effect. “To imagine 12 degrees of warming, think of crocodiles swimming in the Arctic and of the scorched, mostly lifeless equatorial regions” that befell Earth 56 million years ago, reports Quanta Magazine.

Clouds currently cover about two-thirds of the planet at any moment. But computer simulations of clouds have begun to suggest that as the Earth warms, clouds become scarcer. With fewer white surfaces reflecting sunlight back to space, the Earth gets even warmer, leading to more cloud loss. This feedback loop causes warming to spiral out of control.

For decades, rough calculations have suggested that cloud loss could significantly impact climate, but this concern remained speculative until the last few years, when observations and simulations of clouds improved to the point where researchers could amass convincing evidence.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Why Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 Glasses Aren’t Coming to the Masses–Yet by Alyssa Newcomb

Abra CEO: Enterprise Blockchains Will ‘Fail Miserably’ by Robert Hackett

1TB microSD Cards Are Coming to a Store Near You by Emily Price

Face Off! Swatch Group Sues Samsung Over Downloadable Smartwatch Designs by David Meyer

Curv Moves to Shake Up Crypto Storage With Cloud-Based Service, Raises $6.5 Million by Jeff John Roberts

Why the Developer of the New ‘Harry Potter’ Mobile Game and ‘Pokemon Go’ Loves 5G by Aaron Pressman

BEFORE YOU GO

The day the music died. Whatever happened to music visualizers? As audio streaming has taken off, the groovy light-shows that came with media players have seemed to all but disappear. As Steve Rousseau, an editor at Digg, laments: “what we’ve gained in access we’ve lost in terms of user experience. Have you streamed a song on Spotify, Soundcloud, or Pandora? It’s not very fun to watch.” (Caveat: iTunes still has one.)

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Robert Hackett. Find past issues, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters.