Will Samsung’s ambitions for smartphone market Fold?

With the Galaxy Fold launch on pause while it works out some problems, what happens now?

The Samsung Galaxy Fold. Photograph: Jeenah Moon/Bloomberg

The Samsung Galaxy Fold. Photograph: Jeenah Moon/Bloomberg

 

When Samsung announced the Galaxy Fold in February, the company was on a high. After years of development, it was finally ready to unveil its foldable phone, a device it expected to inject some new life into the smartphone sector, which has been showing signs of saturation.

However, things haven’t quite gone to plan.

What has happened?

Samsung has decided to delay the release of its new phone the Galaxy Fold after reports of problems with the test units given to journalists. the phone, which was announced to great fanfare in February, transforms from a 4.6 inch display to a 7.3 inch tablet.

It’s a phone that has been years in the making, requiring new developments in screen technology and work on how to hinge the screen before it could become a reality. And it came with a hefty price tag: almost $2,000.

But still, there was excitement about the potential for the new technology. Earlier versions of foldable phones by other manufacturers didn’t impress, suffering from issues with screen and build quality. Samsung’s Fold was supposed to be the great leap forward.

Now it is on hold. The delay is a bit of a blow to the company, which was counting on the phone to show off its ability to excite the market. The smartphone sector has been suffering from a lack of innovation lately, with little to get excited about bar some improvements in cameras over the years that, while welcome, aren’t exactly an overhaul of the entire sector.

So hopes were pinned on foldable displays. Those hopes have faltered a little now.

What are the problems?

Shortly after Samsung gave the phone to journalists to review, problems started to emerge. There were reports of screen flicker in some units, with others suffering damage after journalists removed a layer of film that wasn’t intended to be taken off the device.

How did Samsung react?

With the phone due to launch on April 26th in the US and May 3rd in the UK, Samsung had to move quickly. Although it initially said the launch would go ahead as planned, Samsung later decided topostpone the phone’s release to the general public until it can resolve the issues discovered by journalists.

What about Samsung’s rivals?

Samsung’s difficulty may be its rivals’ opportunity. Only days after Samsung unveiled the Galaxy Fold, Huawei revealed its own folding phone, the Mate X. Xiaomi is also entering the foldable market, so being first would give Samsung a foothold ahead of of the competition.

But the Huawei phone differs from Samsung’s in one important way – it folds outwards instead of inwards. According to experts, that outward fold puts less pressure on the screen so it is less likely to suffer from similar issues.

What does this mean for Samsung?

As financial impacts go, it’s not yet clear how much of a hit Samsung will take. The launch has been delayed but not cancelled, so Samsung still plans to release the phone – for now. Plus the Fold was never expected to shift units in big numbers this year. Samsung predicted about 1 million in sales over the year. That compares with291 million smartphones it shipped in 2018. The fact that shares in the company barely moved following the announcement of the Fold’s postponement shows that investors, at least, aren’t overly concernced.

Compare that to the Note 7, which sold 2.5 million units before being recalled. That cost Samsung dearly, wiping €13 billion off its share price in the early days of the incident.

Samsung’s decision to to delay the Fold launch so it can resolve the issues may work in its favour. The company has recovered from its Note 7 debacle in 2016, when it had to scrap the phone shortly after launch following reports of the phone going on fire. It doesn’t want to risk another mass recall, so sorting the problems now rather than later is a good move.

When are we likely to see the Fold?

It’s not clear yet when Samsung will reschedule the launch; the company has yet to confirm a new date.