Commentary

Samsung Delays Launch Of Its Flawed, 2G Foldable Smartphone

Samsung gave new meaning to the expression “hold the phone” yesterday. After several techies with pre-release review copies of the device reported their Galaxy Folds were breaking, the company announced it would delay its April 26 rollout in the U.S.

The Fold can slip into a pocket like your average smartphone with a 4.6-inch touchscreen but it also opens like a book to create a tablet-like, 7.3-inch experience.

“The delay is a setback for Samsung and for the smartphone market generally, which had been pinning some hopes on the folding phone to catalyze innovation in the industry. The Galaxy Fold, with its $1,980 price tag, was not intended to be a mass market hit, but many hoped it would hint at a new wave of smartphone advances -- an area that has been lagging in recent years,” the AP’s Rachel Lerman observes.

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“Samsung has been in a race to launch a folding device ahead of Chinese rival Huawei, which has announced its phone but not let reviewers take one home yet,” the BBC’s Chris Fox writes.

“Both manufacturers say their folding screens can be opened and closed more than 100,000 times without breaking, based on laboratory tests. But in the real world, reviewers have destroyed Samsung’s device in less than 48 hours,” Fox adds, suggesting the company might, in retrospect, have tested a tad longer.

“While many reviewers shared with us the vast potential they see, some also showed us how the device needs further improvements that could ensure the best possible user experience,” the company says in its statement  announcing the postponement.

“The Wall Street Journal earlier Monday reported Samsung’s plans to delay the Galaxy Fold release, with people familiar with the matter pointing to problems affecting the handset’s hinge and its main screen. The company initially said it would stick to the Friday launch despite the issues raised by reviewers,” the WSJ’s Timothy W. Martin and Sarah E. Needleman report.

“‘Delays happen but this I put in a different category because it was such an important release,’ said Daniel Ives, a managing director at Wedbush Securities. ‘Samsung has an opportunity to gain share versus the likes of Apple. They just can’t trip over their shoelaces getting there,’” the WSJ piece continues.

“Considering the fallout surrounding the company’s previous high-profile hardware bust -- 2016’s Samsung Galaxy Note 7 and its exploding battery -- the decision seems prudent. And while the Galaxy Fold’s botched launch is certainly a black eye for Samsung, it’s one that should quickly fade,” John Patrick Pullen observes for Fortune

That’s because it isn’t a part of Samsung’s core smartphone business, Josh Lowitz, co-founder of Consumer Intelligence Research Partners, tells Pullen. “This is an important, new technology, but it’s also a fringe event,” Lowitz says.

“The Galaxy Fold’s durability has come into question after several review units failed in quick succession due to issues with their displays. Some units broke after the confusing ‘protective layer’ was mistakenly pulled off the screen. But in other cases (such as The Verge’s own), the Fold catastrophically failed after just a day or two of normal use. With our first unit, debris seemingly made its way into the hinge and underneath the inside display,” reports The Verge’s Chris Welch.

A device tested by CNBC began flickering and then stopped working completely after two days even though the protective layer was not removed, CNBC’s Todd Haselton reports.

“Samsung said it will to find ways to better protect the screens and explain to people that the outside protective layer must stay on. Other test phones seemed to still be working well and so far holding up to the Samsung pledge that the phone can be unfolded about 200,000 times in its life,” the AP’s Rachel Lerman writes.

“If the phone’s launch is delayed for too long, it will be a cause for concern among stakeholders, according to Daniel Yoo, head of global strategy and research at Kiwoom Securities. He told CNBC by email that Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S10 is seen as a ‘very satisfactory’ device, but the launch of the foldable phone will determine if the world’s largest smartphone maker can remain a leader in the sector and continue to play an important role in technology advancement,” CNBC’s Saheli Roy Choudhury writes.

Yoo expects Samsung will fix everything and launch by the end of its second quarter in June.

The WSJ’s Joanna Stern has an entertaining, three-minute video chronicling various issues with the device that was put together before Samsung delayed the launch. A couple of takeaways: if you’re really intent on folding something, you might want to try origami, which she does. The $2,000 phone also makes a photogenic hotdog bun, which is, no doubt, the last thing Samsung wants to see.

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