OPINION: The foldable phone fiasco

BBC.com

Just a few months ago, I wrote an editorial about my foldable phone fears. I wrote about how today’s foldables are nothing like the foldables we really want. They’re clunky and big and not at all flat. I worried that people would reject the idea because the first products to market wouldn’t make anyone happy.

It looks like the results were even worse than I feared.

The unfolding story (pun intended)

Samsung sent out review units of its $2,000 Galaxy Fold recently, and things didn’t go the way you’d expect. Review units are usually early production models that may lack features but have the final hardware. Hardware needs to be finalized well in advance so it can undergo FCC testing, but software can always change. So, professional reviewers tend to go easy on buggy software. They’re very rarely worried about the actual hardware.

That’s not how things panned out for the Galaxy Fold. One reviewer after another discovered that the key feature — the folding screen — broke within days. Some reviewers thought the protective film on the screen was meant to be removed. It wasn’t. Others simply had the phone’s screen stop working in an embarrassingly short time frame.

This speaks to two things: First of all Samsung obviously didn’t do enough real world testing. Maybe they were afraid that their products would be leaked out to the internet before they were ready. Second, it’s obviously much harder to make a foldable screen than anyone thought. I’m sure the folks at Royole, whose foldable phone was the hit of CES this year, agree. No one has heard of them since January and there’s no firm date as to when we’ll see their foldable phone.

After a PR nightmare (something Samsung is all too familiar with) the Galaxy Fold has been put off indefinitely. There’s still some hope it will be available by the summer to those people who put down a deposit, but I personally doubt it.

What can we learn from this?

I think the biggest takeaway is that you just can’t have privacy when you’re testing things. Not anymore. Back in the early days of iPhone development, people worked in secret. Today it’s hard to find a product that hasn’t leaked out to the public. Samsung had its share of leaks about the Galaxy Fold. The first one I remember reading was someone who said the foldable screen broke almost immediately after the first fold.

I think it’s frustrating for a company to have to do all this development under the public’s scrutiny but I also think that you have to realize this is 2019. The more you try to keep something private the more the public will want it.

Where does Samsung go from here?

That’s the question, right? The Galaxy Fold was never intended to be a mass market phone but still, the company has taken deposits. At some point they either have to deliver a phone or refund the deposits. I think that they will deliver a phone at some point but it won’t be very good. Throughout all of this my biggest concern has been that the public would sour on the entire idea of a folding phone and I think that’s a real concern. Historically, this is where you would expect Apple to come in with a much better version of this product and claim they invented it. After all that’s what they did with tablets. However, Apple isn’t the company it once was. I do think there’s some possibility they may still do this but it would have to be a long way down the road, long after the bad taste from this Galaxy Fold experience has faded away.