Samsung Galaxy Fold: The significance of a foldable phone

For 10 years, Samsung and Apple have been going at each other’s throats in the limelight of the competitive smartphone market. At first, Samsung struggled to keep up with Jobs’ Apple. Once he passed, everything changed. Apple was no longer able to keep pace. Some might argue, that even though Apple sales remained superior for the majority of the time, Samsung always implemented bolder, more innovative choices with each release.

I remember the very first curved glass smartphone, the Samsung Galaxy Note Edge. Just like the Fold announced yesterday, it was a premium device. At a premium price, with premium features. The Edge curved only on the right side of the smartphone, but its curve was much more pronounced than that of the more recent Samsung S6 and S7 Edge devices. The curve was so pronounced that you could read content on the curved part of the screen if you were looking at it from the side. I owned this phone. As a technology enthusiast, the concept of a curved screen excited me. I honestly loved that phone. Not only was it a Note series with S pen, which has been my personal preference since the Note Edge, but it had a myriad of notification options and shortcuts that cleverly took advantage of the edge portion of the screen. This smartphone was considered a special edition, and as such, had a limited release. It was not surprising that this iteration did not continue in the next generation. Instead, it evolved into what we now know as S6 and S7 Edge.

The S6 and S7 edge remained optional. This means that, a regular non curved S6 and S7 phone was available for those who remained reluctant to adopt the curved screen form factor. But then, came the S8. The S8 was the first device to start the screen to body ratio war. A device with almost no bezel. No more choices between Edge and non Edge. Instead, they incorporated the benefits of being able to curve the screen to a certain degree into a form factor that permitted an almost bezel-less design. I find this to be the true meaning of evolution of design. Something that started as a experiment with the Galaxy Note Edge, evolved into something that became instrumental in achieving an (almost) all screen design.

I will skip over the S9 since it was just a semi-upgrade, retaining the design but upgrading the specs. But yesterday, the S10 series and Galaxy Fold were showcased to the world. Until new technology is invented, these phones are the closest real life can match science fiction in a device that truly lacks a bezel. Not only no bezels, but also no garish notches(*cough* Apple *cough*). Instead, due to the level of flexibility Samsung has achieved with their OLED screens, they managed to hole punch the screen, leaving only a camera sized hole in the corner of the display, rather than a giant cut notch. They even managed to fully realize the Sci fi tired trope of a fingerprint reader right on the screen. And since the camera resides within the corner of the screen fully surrounding its opening, the screen highlights white around the camera opening when you are about to take a picture so you know where to look. These are little details, but excellent design nonetheless. Nothing would be possible if the curved screens Samsung released in the past had not set a precedent for molding the screen around the functionality of the device, rather than designing the device to fit a flat screen.

All copyrights belong to Samsung. Image source

The S10 was not the star of the show, however. Enter the Samsung Galaxy Fold. A phone that costs as much as my fairly high end computer build I wrote about last month.  $1980 USD. Is this justifiable for a phone? Not typically, but I would like to argue that it is.

Let’s examine. The Samsung Galaxy Fold will ship with:

  • 12GB of RAM,
  • Snapdragon 855,
  • 512GB stock storage,
  • one 4.6 inch OLED and a foldable 7.3 inch OLED,
  • A pair of Galaxy ear buds
  • a total of six cameras cleverly distributed across the device.
Now, let’s see our closest priced flagship devices currently in market. The closest contender at 512GB of storage is Samsung’s own Note 9 at $1249, and the iPhone XS Max 512GB at $1449. We can then at least establish that a phone with 512GB would need to be at least $1250. Let’s focus on the competition, however.

At $1449, the iPhone XS Max offers virtually nothing to justify its price other than i7ts storage. At this point, we only have a $530 difference to get to the Fold price from the XS Max. Let’s throw in the fact that the Fold includes a set of $130 dollar truly wireless Galaxy buds. This is the equivalent to Apple including airpods with their highest end phone, which has never happened. If we account that in, then the remaining amount left to justify is $400. So the question would be, is a $400 USD difference worth:

  • An unique foldable display technology, that allows you to carry something the size of a phone but can morph into a tablet?
  • What about 6 cameras, all of which are distributed in a way that the morphing of the phone does not make it impractical to take a picture?
  • Not only that, but it allows for insanely ultrawide photos both through front and back cameras?
  • What about the aforementioned insane specs packed into this beast?
I would say, absolutely.

That does not mean that this device is for the masses. Microsoft did not release their Surface Studio desktop starting at 3000 USD thinking about the masses. Apple did not release their also 3000 USD Mac Pro thinking about the masses either. This phone is like that. Samsung said so during the unpacked event, calling it a “luxury device”. In the realm of luxury devices, specially luxury smartphones, the Fold trumps them all.

So, you may ask yourself, what if it is foldable? What if I don’t care for that? Well, for one, if you don’t care, you simply are not the target demographic. However, there is a much more important point to be made here. For many years, during Samsung’s Unpacked and Apple ‘s Keynote events, phrases like “truly revolutionary” and “most innovative” have been thrown around with plenty of hyperbole. For the first time since the conception of the first iPhone, or the first Samsung Note, we truly have something that can be called, without hyperbole, innovative, and revolutionary.

The significance does not lay on the fact that the phone is foldable. Instead, there is significance in the fact that the foldable design is now possible. Remember Sci Fi movies. How many times have you seen fictitious devices that look smartphone sized, but then as if by magic expand into a larger screen? At least this many.  Thanks to the Fold, many of the latter concepts (see link) are no longer science fiction. Think about it. The device is as small as a phone, but expands into a tablet! If you had seen this exact same design in a movie years ago, you would have had the same reaction you had to any of the devices in the article linked above. You would have dismissed it as Sci Fi and moved on. But it’s real, and with today’s technology, it is now finally possible for this type of device to exist. So what does this mean?

It means that, in a world previously plagued by a multi-corporation marketing battle of increasingly larger bar soap shaped devices, something has arrived that will change the game going forward. This is how competition is healthy. Other companies will now attempt to beat or match Samsung’s feat. At first, we are going to have a myriad of foldable phones, like the Royole FlexPai.  Eventually, I believe the battle will evolve into “how else can we take advantage of a flexible display other than folding?”. LG is ahead of the game when it comes to their TVs, already having rollable TVs like this one about to hit the market. Imagine then, a phone with the same concept as the LG TV? Maybe store in a tube form factor, ready to be rolled out to the desired size, much like a projector screen or a set of rollable curtains.

All of this is coming, without a doubt. And it is coming because one the top two smartphone manufacturers in the world set a precedent with the Galaxy Fold. If there is one thing the tech industry will always do, is look for precedents to beat and improve. And that, is the true significance of the Samsung Galaxy Fold.

You can watch the Samsung Galaxy Fold official unveiling here.

**Disclaimer:  I do not claim ownership or credit to any of the links or pictures used in this article.  All pictures are copyrighted and owned by Samsung.**

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