Time to Fold?
Samsung still hasn’t given their foldable device, the Galaxy Fold, a proper release date, leaving us to presume there are plenty of issues left to fix before the device reaches the quality and reliability required for smartphones to hit the market.
Issues over screen malfunctions originally caused Samsung to pull the Galaxy Fold days before its official launch. Indeed, it was unclear how the company failed to predict the foldable phone would fail sooner.
At a recent meeting with several media outlets, months after the original official launch date, Samsung CEO DJ Koh came clean about the debacle, telling the Independent: “It was embarrassing. I pushed it through before it was ready”.
This mistake has left the market wide-open for the Galaxy Fold’s only announced competitor, the Huawei Mate X, to take the lead - but even that device has a vague release window of September or sooner. Will the Fold or the Mate X win the race?
“I do admit I missed something on the foldable phone, but we are in the process of recovery,” Koh informed those present at the meeting. “At the moment, more than 2,000 devices are being tested right now in all aspects. We defined all the issues. Some issues we didn’t even think about, but thanks to our reviewers, mass volume testing is ongoing.”
Foldable devices are, technologically, a tough nut to crack. But they represent something more: the potential end of the line for smartphones, a design summit that phones might not rise above given fundamental limitations of the very form of the device.
But before that, the time of the foldable seems to be upon us. Whether out of caution or to ensure it doesn’t follow the Fold’s aborted launch, Huawei is biding its time over announcing progress, but the company’s President of Europe, Walter Ji, told TechRadar that their foldable “is in final testing.” It seems like it is only a matter of time before a foldable device is released.
“Foldable will last a couple of years,” Koh admitted. “Another form factor is a possibility, but I will say that once 5G and the internet of things are available, we must think rather than smartphones, we must think smart devices. Smartphones may decline but new devices will emerge.”
Koh foresees networks of interconnected and multi-screen devices at well-travelled locations as functionally replacing smartphones. Instead of interfacing with one smartphone you carry around, people will speak to dozens of devices throughout their day.
It’s a sci-fi-esque image of the world, where expensive phones give way to a more abstract network of digital assistance. Such a network will likely be made up of voice-activated AI devices in specific locations, as well as portable devices like smart watches.
“Smartphone design has hit a limit, that’s why we designed a folding phone,” Kang Yun-Je, head of Samsung Electronic’s design team, informed journalists. “But we’re also focusing on other devices that are beginning to make a wider impact on the market, like smart earphones and smart watches. In five years or so, people will not even realize they are wearing screens. It will be seamless.”