Sam­sung wants to force its fold­ing Galaxy phone on us this year whether we want it or not

First over form and func­tion.

PCWorld (USA) - - News Windows 10 October 2018 Update - BY MICHAEL SI­MON

Sam­sung has been threat­en­ing to re­lease a fold­ing phone for the bet­ter part of five years, and now it looks like it might ac­tu­ally hap­pen. In an interview with CNBC at the IFA trade show in Ber­lin ( go.pc­world.com/fdsm), mo­bile CEO DJ Koh, who has been talk­ing up the com­pany’s fold­ing phone project any chance he gets, all but an­nounced that we’ll get a first look at the new hand­set be­fore the year is up.

Ac­cord­ing to CNBC, Koh “hinted that more de­tails of the de­vice could be un­veiled this year at the Sam­sung De­vel­oper Con­fer­ence in Novem­ber in San Fran­cisco,” but stopped short of di­vulging when it would ac­tu­ally go on sale. Koh said that the new phone’s de­vel­op­ment process has “nearly con­cluded.”

Based on his rather vague com­ments, it will prob­a­bly be a pre­view rather than a full launch, and more than likely it will be branded as a pro­to­type. It might not even have a

name. But make no mis­take: Sam­sung is de­ter­mined to an­nounce the world’s first truly fold­able phone for one rea­son and one rea­son only: to be first, not be­cause the world needs it. Or even wants it.

KNOW WHEN TO FOLD ‘EM

Koh al­ready told the world in Au­gust ( go. pc­world.com/djkh) that Sam­sung would be launch­ing its fold­ing phone as soon as pos­si­ble be­cause he “didn’t want to lose the ‘world’s-first’ ti­tle.” That’s a ter­ri­ble rea­son to re­lease any­thing, but worse when you’re talk­ing about cut­ting-edge tech­nol­ogy that con­sumers aren’t nec­es­sar­ily clam­or­ing for.

Our phones are al­ready plenty big. Sam­sung’s own Note 9 ( go.pc­world.com/ sgn9) is 6.4 inches, Ap­ple’s iphone XS ( go. pc­world.com/ifdp) is 6.5 inches, and the upcoming Pixel 3 XL ( go. pc­world.com/gxl3) could be 6.7 inches. Since any­thing big­ger will be push­ing the lim­its of what can fit into our pock­ets, Sam­sung, Huawei, and oth­ers are turn­ing to fold­ing screens to make phones big­ger with­out need­ing an ex­tra bag to carry them.

That’s a no­ble mis­sion. We can de­bate for­ever whether our phones ac­tu­ally need to get big­ger, but if they do, some­thing needs to give. Our bezels can only shrink so much, and even­tu­ally a new kind of form fac­tor is go­ing to be needed. And fold­ing seems like the best way to ad­dress it. Last year, ZTE tried its hand at a fold­ing phone with the hinge-heavy Axon M, but Sam­sung’s new phone looks to have an ac­tual screen that folds.

But de­sign­ing a new prod­uct to ful­fill a pur­pose or a need is a lot dif­fer­ent than de­sign­ing one to beat ev­ery­one else. Cor­ners are cut, com­pro­mises are made, and the end re­sult suf­fers. Be­sides, Sam­sung’s re­lent­less pur­suit of “first” has rarely re­sulted in a prod­uct that peo­ple want. There was the Galaxy Gear smart­watch ( go.pc­world.com/ smgr), which was a clunky, con­fus­ing mess; the orig­i­nal Galaxy Note ( go.pc­world.com/ smnt), which was a be­he­moth of a hand­set

with lim­ited app sup­port; the over­priced and buggy Galaxy S6 Edge ( go.pc­world.com/ s6eg) with a whole cav­al­cade of fea­tures that didn’t last more than a year. Sam­sung prides it­self on be­ing first, and likes to re­mind us of that any chance it gets.

If and when Sam­sung does un­veil its first fold­able phone later this year, it will get the ap­pro­pri­ate head­lines and buzz. Then we’ll find out the price, which is likely to be well over $1,000. Then the re­views will roll in and peo­ple will de­cide whether they ac­tu­ally want to be the first per­son on their block with the first fold­able phone. My guess is no.

BE­ING FIRST BRINGS A WORLD OF PROB­LEMS

But while first can be a great badge of honor, it can also back­fire. Sam­sung is best known as a premium phone com­pany, but it’s al­ready strug­gling to sell them this year. Nei­ther the Galaxy S9 nor the Note 9 were buzz-wor­thy de­vices, and if Sam­sung is push­ing its fold­ing phone to mar­ket just for rel­e­vancy, that could be a prob­lem. It’s not just that fold­ing phone tech is bleedingedge stuff, it’s that there are a lot of op­por­tu­ni­ties for it to go spec­tac­u­larly wrong. The ques­tions far out­weigh the lo­gis­tics, and Sam­sung’s track record with early tech­nol­ogy doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily give me hope that it’s solved them all to sat­is­fac­tion.

In his CNBC interview, Koh said all the right things about the upcoming fold­ing Galaxy phone as he tried to con­vince us that Sam­sung has cov­ered its bases:

If the un­folded ex­pe­ri­ence is the same as the tablet, why would they (con­sumers) buy it? … So ev­ery de­vice, ev­ery fea­ture, ev­ery in­no­va­tion should have a mean­ing­ful mes­sage to our end cus­tomer. So when the end cus­tomer uses it, (they think) ‘Wow, this is the rea­son Sam­sung made it.’”

I hope that’s the case. Be­cause right now, it looks like the only rea­son Sam­sung made it is be­cause it can.

ZTE al­ready tried and failed to suc­ceed with a fold­ing phone, but Sam­sung’s will re­port­edly have an ac­tual fold­ing screen.

The orig­i­nal Galaxy Gear in­cluded a leaflet warn­ing against re­turn­ing your watch.

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