TechnoSphere: Folded


Words Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla



Consumer technology is an arms race. Companies are constantly pressured to produce new products, to innovate and leapfrog their competition; and while we’re used to a cadence of yearly updates and releases, these pale in comparison to monster product releases.


Samsung’s Galaxy Fold was supposed to be the standard bearer of an entirely new class of foldable smartphone. It featured a long, yet thick handset that unfolded to reveal a tablet. Priced at a stratospheric cost of US$2,000, the Galaxy Fold created a whole new class of ultra-premium devices that cost as much as high-end laptops. The big challenge was to make users desire a product that they didn’t really need. 


As with most new releases, Samsung seeded review versions of the Galaxy Fold to vetted members of the tech press—choosing writers and reviewers whose publications had the most followers, or sympathetic influencers who have praised Samsung’s products in the past. They clearly wanted to build some hype. 


The next great Galaxy device

The rest of the world followed along online and on social media as these first reviewers fawned over how beautiful the Galaxy Fold was. “It felt new!” they said. It “opened and closed with such a satisfying click!” they added. The Galaxy Fold was weeks away from public release and it looked like a formidable and impressive first foldable to hit the mass market.


Then the first reports of issues started coming in. The Galaxy Fold’s display was trapping  dust and debris behind the display. It wasn’t protected enough. Removal of an included screen protector rendered the display unusable. There were instances where the Galaxy Fold’s display spasmodically flickered; other instances saw the device completely fail. Not a good look at all for a highly touted next-generation device that Samsung was planning to sell for an exorbitant amount of money to early adopters. 


Samsung scrambled to retrieve all the review units. They even asked for an iFixit teardown of a Galaxy Fold to be taken down from a website. The launch of the device was postponed indefinitely. Many are wondering if it will be canceled altogether, given that the majority of the small sampling of review devices exhibited issues and catastrophic failure. Samsung’s foldable future looks murky.


Some are saying Samsung is a victim of its own hubris. Rushing an unfinished product to be first to market usually exposes all the issues and deficiencies of that product. While Samsung showed videos of robots opening and closing the Galaxy Fold hundreds of times, we forget that these videos likely took place in a dust-free lab—not in the real world, where crumbs and pocket-lint, or toddlers, can easily convert a multi-thousand-dollar smartphone into a very expensive doorstop. 


Never but the first version of anything

The first version of any product is a dicey proposition because manufacturers haven’t worked out all the kinks yet. People buying the first Galaxy Fold device are, in essence, paying Samsung for the opportunity to do the beta-, and stress testing that Samsung should have done for years before shipping the product. They are also funding development of the next versions of the Galaxy Fold, which will be better in every conceivable way than the first version.


The second and third generation of a product are usually much better and cheaper because manufacturing costs are lower. That said, I am still not convinced that folding smartphones are the future of anything. They are a solution looking for a problem to solve. They are non-essential.


Smartphones and tablets are mature products and serve the needs of their users at a much cheaper price and are much more durable. The fewer moving parts a thing has, the less chance it has of failing. This applies to foldable phones, too. 


AirPower aborted

A similar cancellation situation unfolded when Apple canceled its two-years delayed AirPower wireless charging pad. AirPower was supposed to be another Apple innovation that could wirelessly charge iPhones, Apple Watches, and AirPods with a charging case. 


Apple suddenly canceled AirPower, saying that they couldn’t solve the intricacies of multiple magnetic charging coils on one device. Insiders say that AirPower was a fire hazard that could overcharge devices. It was unsafe.


Like Samsung with the Galaxy Fold, Apple jumped the gun with AirPower, announcing it way before it was ready and building up expectation. Unlike Samsung, however, Apple decided to cancel a problematic product. They took the loss and ridicule for canceling AirPower, but at least they escaped without any reviewer or public outcry. 


Competition in consumer electronics has become so heated that companies will do anything to claim an advantage, even promoting prototypes as finished and ready-to-ship products. Sadly, without reviewers or the technology press to expose these substandard products, consumers can be fooled and eventually swallow the costs and resulting heartache.


Samsung should scrap this version of the Galaxy Fold completely. Or if it persists to ship an obviously flawed product, consumers should avoid buying it. Success is not always about being first or being the newest; it should be about being the best product for the money.


This article was originally published in Speed Magazine’s June 2019 issue.


Read more: Lenovo unveils first foldable-display laptop


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