Commentary

Samsung Shows Off A Future That Includes Folding Smartphones

Samsung previewed a couple of firsts in one package yesterday: a smartphone that opens like a book that’s only a few bucks shy of retailing for a whopping $2,000. It also unveiled Galaxy Buds earbuds, three smartwatches and four other smartphones, including one that will run on forthcoming 5G networks, at its “#unpacking” event in Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco.

Besides getting a gander at the folding device from every conceivable angle, about all you’ll learn from this :90 promotional video is the chest-thumping tagline: “We didn’t just change the shape of the phone. We changed the shape of tomorrow.”

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Perhaps. The release for the phone has a lot more details about the “the 7.3-inch Infinity Flex Display, which folds into a compact device with a cover display” and can run three apps simultaneously on the main screen.

“Samsung isn’t the only smartphone maker creating a foldable device, but it’s certainly one of the first to make it widely available,” writes Tom Warren for The Verge

“Xiaomi teased its own folding phone recently, that looked like the best concept we’ve seen so far. Huawei is also reportedly planning to release a foldable handset this year, and Lenovo has started to tease its own prototype. LG has also been developing flexible OLED displays and TVs that roll up into a box. If all these manufacturers progress toward shipping a device like Samsung, then expect to see a lot of foldable phones in 2019 and beyond,” he adds.

As for the four other phones, “one will work on next-generation ultrafast 5G cellular networks, which means it can download a movie in seconds rather than minutes. Three of the models will have slightly larger screens and more complex camera systems than their predecessors,” Brian X. Chen reports for the New York Times.

The camera on Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S10 “literally punches right through the screen, doing away with the need for borders, notches or other weird cutouts. There’s a fingerprint reader in the screen, too, hidden behind the pixels. Flip the screen over, and it becomes a wireless charging station for headphones -- or for a friend’s dying phone battery,” writes Geoffrey Fowler for the Washington Post.

Fowler points out that the unpacking event is “an annual ritual that has become as much about marketing upgrades as showcasing new technology. Samsung’s goal: make other smartphones look dated. And it accomplished that. …” 

“Samsung is making the same mistakes as Apple did with its new phones," reads the headline over Todd Haselton’s analysis for .CNBC.com. He expounds on three of them that “are allowing companies like Huawei and Xiaomi to rapidly gain ground on Samsung and Apple, two of the world's largest phone makers by shipment volume.”

The first:  "The phones are too expensive for most people.” No. 2: They lack “must have” features. Finally, they are “missing the boat on China,” where “local brands are taking advantage of Apple and Samsung's missteps in the market by selling affordable phones with strong local brand names.”

Samsung also introduced three wearables: the $200 Galaxy Watch Active, which works with both Android and iOs devices, and the Galaxy Fit and Galaxy Fit e, which both cost $99.

“The Galaxy Watch Active is the first Samsung device to feature blood pressure tracking. The smartwatch is also built with improved stress monitoring and sleep tracking. It automatically detects your workouts as well, including, biking, running the elliptical, and three other workouts,” writes  Dalvin Brown for USA Today. The Fit devices retain heart rate and monitor sleep and stress, he reports.

Meanwhile, Samsung's Galaxy Home speaker will launch by April, Samsung co-CEO DJ Koh told CNET’s Shara Tibken after the event.

“The ultra-packed product launch included no word about Samsung's smart speaker. The South Korean company unveiled the Bixby-powered device during its Galaxy Note 9 launch in August. It showed it again during its developer conference in November but hadn’t yet specified the launch date,” Tibken writes, while pointing out that Samsung faces an already crowded smart-speaker market. 

“The world’s largest smartphone maker’s stock was little changed Thursday amid mixed comments from analysts and Twitter observers regarding the Galaxy Fold’s high price tag, functionality and sales prospects. Samsung is still up more than 20% in 2019, rebounding from a drop of over 20% last year,” Min Jeong Lee and Heejin Kim report for Bloomberg.

“The phone seems to be pretty good, in terms of price and design, as I thought it would be $3,000,” Park Sung-shin, fund manager at KTB Asset Management, tells them. “Shares of Samsung and its suppliers are falling just for profit-taking after the event.”

Two grand for a phone? Informed sources tell me a mere 50 years ago, you could buy a new Volkswagen Beetle for $1,799. Before haggling.

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