Analysts and insiders are expecting two new foldable phones, the Galaxy Z Fold 4 and Galaxy Z Flip 4, a new lineup of smartwatches headlined by a ‘Pro’ version of Galaxy Watch 5 and most likely a third-generation Galaxy buds at the Unpacked event scheduled for August 10.
In the fast-moving world of smartphones, Samsung and Apple remain at the top of the funnel and are the only two brands that have both the resources and scale to gamble on new tech without worrying about the consequences. And both companies have taken risks in the past with devices like the Galaxy Note series and iPhone X which later became category leaders.
But these days, most phones are just a little better than the previous generation, with incremental improvements in processing power, charging speeds and camera capabilities. There’s an impression that brands are risk averse and prefer to continue with things that are working for them.
But taking risks could come with its own benefits too, from establishing a new form factor to finding a larger audience for cutting-edge tech. For example, the Nothing Phone (1), a maiden phone from Carl Pei, the former co-founder of OnePlus, is a reminder that taking risks can also add a little fun to smartphones. The phone may not have superior specs but promises a unique design that is hard to ignore. Not everyone likes a transparent casing and an eye-catching set of light strips on the rear of the device but that design can be a form of self-expression which finds its own set of fans.
The impending launch of Galaxy Z Flip 4 and Fold 4 gives us hope that smartphone innovation isn’t dead as it appears to be. The 2019’s Galaxy Fold was a proof of concept: expensive, with its own technical challenges, and released in select markets only. No matter what fate the first generation of Fold met with, the idea of having a phone that transforms into a tablet was innovative. Then came the Galaxy Z Fold 2 the next year and the device improved on durability and addressed reliability issues users have had with the form factor. Last year’s Galaxy Z Fold 3 got critical acclaim and became quite popular across the world.
But the turning point came with the debut of the Galaxy Z Flip. When opened, the Galaxy Z Flip had a 6.7-inch display but when closed was just the size of a makeup compact. The Flip was a device that created curiosity about foldable phones among aspirational consumers despite a high price of $1380. Last year’s $1800 Galaxy Z Fold 3 and $1000 Flip 3 whipped up interest around foldable smartphones and acceptance as a usable form factor.
TM Roh, the head of Samsung’s mobile experience business, recently mentioned in a blog post that almost 10 million foldable phones were shipped in 2021 — market research firm IDC estimates the number at 7.1 million. This is good considering the early fears that foldable phones might not see a third or fourth generation. It is good that companies are working on getting the foldable form factor right before rushing more units to consumers.
While Oppo already has a foldable, Google and OnePlus are rumoured to be working on foldable smartphones. Chinese technology giant Huawei too was investing in the segment, but its trouble in the US market seems to have derailed its plans.
With its latest generation of foldables, Samsung has a real opportunity to make foldable phones desirable for larger audiences. Generation after generation, foldable phones have improved in terms of durability and reliability. Now is the time for the segment to go mass by making it accessible to maybe the regular smartphone user and not just the first mover. For that Samsung will also need to get its pricing and software right.