Smartphones: Trouble unfolds at Samsung
Samsung’s Galaxy Fold “could still be one of the most creative devices to come to market in recent years,” said Louise Matsakis in Wired.com. But right now, “it looks like the phone flapped its folding wings too close to the sun.” The nearly $2,000 device—a 4.6-inch phone that opens into a 7.3-inch tablet—was supposed to hit stores last week. However, Samsung postponed the release indefinitely “after screens on review models sent to news outlets and bloggers began malfunctioning after only a couple of days.” One reviewer’s display died when he removed a film that appeared to be a screen protector but is actually crucial to its operation; another’s screen started flashing on Day 1; yet another’s spontaneously developed a mysterious bump near the hinge. This product failure comes just three years after the release of Samsung’s exploding Galaxy Note 7, said Tim Culpan in Bloomberg.com, “a device that earned the rare honor of being banned by name from airlines around the world.” The company won back the trust of smartphone buyers after that PR disaster. But wary consumers might now be muttering, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”
Yes, Samsung has suffered a black eye and likely dinged “consumer confidence in foldable phones in general,” said Roger Cheng in CNET.com. “But here’s the thing: This whole mishap could have been so much worse.” Imagine if the malfunctioning Fold had actually made it to market, which is when the Note 7 started to go wrong. Back in 2016, Samsung responded slowly and reluctantly to the first reports of those devices catching fire, “only to have it blow up, quite literally, in its face.” That Samsung has taken the embarrassing “step of delaying the launch shows it’s learned its lesson.” The company now has the opportunity to correct the Fold and keep the wider market for foldable phones alive.
But how did this deeply flawed piece of tech ever end up in reviewers’ hands? asked William Pesek in Nikkei Asian Review (Japan). Samsung is clearly eager to change its reputation from clever Apple copycat “to innovative first mover.” Yet in its haste to outdo Apple and Chinese upstarts Huawei and Xiaomi—which are also developing folding phones—the company has forgotten its big lesson of 2016: “Solid execution of a reliable product trumps attempting to be novel with untested gadgets.” This is all a sign of the smartphone sector’s innovation crisis, said Charles Arthur in The Guardian (U.K.). Phone sales are slumping because consumers have decided they’re perfectly happy with their current devices. So now manufacturers are trying to persuade them to upgrade with “advances”—foldable tablet phones!—they don’t want. “Maybe it was inevitable that Samsung would invent the self-breaking phone. But it’s hard to say that’s progress.” ■