On February 20, 2019, South Korean electronics company Samsung announced the Galaxy Fold, the first cellular phone with a fully folding screen by a major cell phone manufacturer. The Fold was originally slated for release in July of 2019, but was delayed after test units sent to reviewers began showing severe issues. After the recall, many journalists described the entire launch as a complete failure and an embarrassment for Samsung. Now, after implementing several key hardware adjustments, the Fold has now been released in many major markets, it has yet to be seen if it will be remembered as a failure or a major step in the future of the industry. Although it may have its flaws and had a severely troubled launch, the Galaxy Fold demonstrates the innovative spirit that defines Samsung’s largest edge over its competition, such as technology giants Apple and the China-based Hauwei.
The Fold’s defining feature is evident in its name. It consists of two major pieces, connected with a hinge. The device has a smaller screen on the outside and a much larger, flexible screen on the inside of the hinge. The outer 4.6” screen is largely used for minor tasks, while the inner screen becomes a 7.3” square when unfolded and is designed to be used for the majority of tasks. Because of the complex nature of the phone, it costs around $2,000, a relatively high price compared to non-folding alternatives. It also has specifications on par with or above the rest of this year’s flagship phones, from its processor to battery. It also has six cameras on the device, one above the smaller screen, three on the back of the phone, and two more in the top right corner of the inner foldable screen. The foldable screen is the main selling feature, with a screen diameter significantly larger than any non-folding phone. The 7.3” screen is comparable to an iPad Mini’s size of 7.9” but fits into the form factor of a regular-sized cell phone.
Many of the major complaints about the Fold have been related to its longevity. When the test units were sent out, they had a few catastrophic issues. The phones shipped with a protective layer over the foldable screen. Many reviewers thought this was a removable protector, but in reality, when it was removed the entirety of the foldable display was destroyed. There was no warning on the earliest models that this was the case. The second major issue was the hinge holding the phone together. While Samsung said it was robust and rated to last “at least 200,000 folds and unfolds,” this did not account for outside dust and sand, which could easily enter the phone through the hinge. This would then result in the particles accumulating under the screen, ultimately leading to bulges and more broken displays. At the time, some journalists said this would be a major and complicated issue to resolve, but Samsung seems to be confident in their fixes to these issues.
Samsung fixed the screen filament by extending the edges under the sides of the phone, so that no user would be tempted or able to peel it off the screen. This has so far proved to be an effective fix, as no further incidents have been reported. As for the hinge, Samsung added a small plastic cover piece to close up the gap in which particles were entering. This has been relatively effective, but as the phone still has minor gaps, this fix has yet to be proven totally effective.
Despite structural issues, the Fold demonstrates Samsung’s overarching mentality of innovation compared to its competitors. The smartphone space is becoming increasingly crowded, and companies are trying to find ways to distinguish themselves from competitors. For Apple, they have such a large and dedicated consumer base, largely because of their “ecosystem” that encourages buying products specifically from Apple. Because of this brand loyalty, they have shifted away from design-focused endeavors towards services such as the upcoming Apple TV+. Samsung, on the other hand, has realized that in order to draw in new consumers, it needs to differentiate itself and provide exciting new hardware features. Another of their previous screen-based innovations was the “hole punch display” which allowed for a camera sized hole to be cut out of the screen in order to give the screen more real estate on the phone.
More broadly, Samsung has 36 research and development centers across the world devoted to securing new innovations. Additionally, the company invested $12 billion into R&D in 2015 alone. Samsung has been the second-largest patent holder in the United States since 2006, even though it is not based in the U.S. Finally, Samsung also has its own Strategy and Innovation center, which is a division of the company specifically devoted to designing future products and solutions.
Because of innovations such as these and the Galaxy Fold, Samsung’s market share of smartphones has increased from 18 percent in Q4 2018, to 22 percent in Q2 2019. In the long run, this innovative strategy will help Samsung continue to attract more of the market. Although the Fold has its minor issues and a relatively high price, it demonstrates the companies continued efforts to innovate in the space and draw an increasing percentage of the market share.