Innovating is a serious matter, as things hardly go well the first time. Samsung has certainly experienced this first-hand in the foldable smartphone that the company enthusiastically unveiled in November of last year. (See the 12 November 2018 article in this column.) Samsung wanted to display its innovative juice, if only to secure its rightful place as a preeminent innovative company. But things went awry as the product which was intended to be a smash hit and a symbol of status and luxury, is turning out to be a liability for Samsung. Korea Herald newspaper of 5 September 2019 suggests Samsung’s reduced expectation from the Fold. While you don’t pray to fail at an undertaking, it is well known that failures are a good thing because of the lessons packed in them – for the wise, of course.
Here is the saga of Galaxy Fold. On 15 April 2019, Samsung proudly distributed beta versions of Galaxy Fold to gadget reviewers across the United States on schedule for the planned release of the device to the public on 26 April 2019. However, within two days testers started reporting problems with the foldable smartphone, including the observation that the all-important central flexible screen started to break under normal use. Reviewers uncovered two types of failures, which are described in the 22 April 2019 article in this column. Basically, the screens were breaking or sustaining damage and scratches. This forced Samsung to suspend the planned April 2019 release of the Fold, and instead head back to the drawing board. The release of the device last week follows Samsung’s fixing of the reported issues.
Samsung is no stranger to high-profile failure, as would be the case for any prolific innovator. In fact, we are reminded of the issues with Galaxy Note 7 in 2016, when the phone would burst into flames and explode because of battery problems. This led to two recalls and eventual discontinuation of the model.
Samsung isn’t the first-to-market with foldable phones; that credit goes to a little-known company with the name Royole – who, on 5 November 2018 launched FlexPai, a 7.8-inch tablet that can be folded into a smartphone. However, reviews suggest the device is not at the level of the iPhones and Galaxies quality-wise.
The concept of foldable phones might be a bit confusing. I remember one of the readers of this column in Daily Trust writing me, in response to my article of 22 April 2019 on foldable phones, to remind me of the “foldable” phone “ZTE Axon M” developed by the Chinese company ZTE. Configuration-wise, this device doesn’t qualify as a foldable phone in the sense implied by Samsung and others who have tried to develop phones that you can bend. The ZTE device is essentially two phones “taped” together at a crease; that allows you to basically open and close the phone along the crease. Though technically, opening and closing is a folding process, the technology in focus should allow you to bend the phones, not just opening and closing the way you do to a book. ZTE’s phone is basically a dual-screen technology.
The Samsung approach allows you to bend the phone, the way you fold a sheet of paper into two. This way the phone is more compact and can fit into your pocket. Moreover, the ZTE device isn’t at the level of capability that we have gotten used to in smartphones. For example, the resolution does not scale, the OS is antiquated (Android 7.1.2 (Nougat)); you have 1990s memory (4GB RAM, 64GB hard disk space); single, non-removable Li-Ion 3180 mAh battery; and essentially a 3G technology. Also, there is only one camera, with no capability for selfie. The price of Axon M is however, relatively more friendly at US$730.
In comparison, the Galaxy Fold released in South Korea on 5 September 2019 and scheduled to be released in Europe and the US on 18 September 2019 and 27 September 2019, respectively, has an awesome set of capabilities. Here are a few of them: CPU is based on Qualcomm Snapdragon 855; RAM is 12GB, storage is 512 GB; screen size is 4.6 inches when folded, and 7.3 inches when unfolded; resolution is 1680 x 720 (folded), but 2152 x 1536 (unfolded); two batteries per phone: 4,380mAh (LTE or 4G model) and 4,235mAh if 5G; size is 160.9 x 62.9 x 17 mm (folded) and 160.9 x 117.9 x 7.5 mm (unfolded). The weight of the device is 263g, and the engine is Android 9.0 Pie. The Snapdragon 855 chip provides a lot of processing power. Having two (powerful) batteries on each side of the device obviates the need to bend the battery. Though the 4G and 5G options have different battery sizes, the difference isn’t that much. Note that Galaxy Fold has 6 camera lenses, with a few of these for selfies. Also note that the Fold’s unfolded screen can be used to run three apps at once.
As I have stated in two previous articles, there seems to be no compelling business or use case for a foldable phone; so that, coupled with the high price point of Galaxy Fold – $2,000 or more, getting it into the hands of many, profitably, may be an uphill battle for Samsung.