In short: Samsung appears to be sending mixed signals regarding its first-ever foldable Android smartphone; just over a month after its mobile chief DJ Koh said the company spent a great deal of time figuring out how to differentiate the device from an ordinary tablet that simply folds in half, the executive suggested that's exactly what the gadget will be in a folded-out state in an interview with CNET. The handset will hence allow for tablet-like multitasking while still being compact enough to fit into a regular pocket, at least while it's folded, the industry veteran explained. Early last month, Mr. Koh claimed the unconventional device will be more than a tablet because there's no point in commercializing it otherwise.
One message that was consistent across both interviews was that the upcoming phone won't be a "gimmick," with Samsung being adamant it can create real added value for consumers through innovation. "When we deliver a foldable phone, it has to be really meaningful to our customer," Mr. Koh was quoted as saying, asserting the final user experience is the only factor that truly matters in Samsung's process of deciding whether to commercialize a new technology or not. The head of Samsung's mobile unit reiterated that the company's seminal gadget will be sold globally, acknowledging that the device may be a niche product at first, but also expressing optimism about its potential to grow into a market of its own - one that could help Samsung maintain its smartphone unit's momentum. "I'm positive that we do need a foldable phone," Mr. Koh concluded, albeit without elaborating on the exact launch and availability timeframe attached to the project.
Background: Samsung officials, including Mr. Koh himself, previously said the bendable device will be introduced by the end of the year, though industry insiders still believe that doesn't mean the phone will be sold in time for this year's holiday season. Instead, Samsung is more likely to unveil the handset — rumored to be called the Galaxy F — in the coming weeks but only release it in the first quarter of 2019, possibly around time CES or MWC take place. The South Korean technology juggernaut has been working on flexible displays and other technologies necessary for foldable phones since at least 2012, as suggested by the fact that it started teasing those efforts nearly six years ago.
While Huawei is understood to be close to Samsung's position in the foldable smartphone race, the world's largest handset maker is still expected to become the first company to introduce such a device, especially on a global scale. Recent reports suggest the rumored Galaxy F will come with a price tag of over $1,500 and utilize internals comparable to those of Samsung's other flagships. Assuming the phone is planned to hit the store shelves in 2019, that likely means it will sport the Exynos 9820, Samsung's still-unannounced system-on-chip meant to succeed the Exynos 9810 found inside the Galaxy S9 and Galaxy Note 9 lineups, as well as the upcoming W2019 flip phone.
Samsung is said to have encountered a variety of production issues during its foldable smartphone pursuit and has reportedly even restarted the project from scratch on at least several occasions since 2012. Weak yield rates and suspect product durability were highlighted as the two endeavor's two biggest problems that have only been adequately addressed this year thanks to technological advancements, as industry insiders claimed earlier this summer. The initial production run of the first-of-a-kind gadget isn't expected to exceed 150,00 units, as that's how many flexible mobile OLED panels Samsung Electronics ordered from its sister company Samsung Display several weeks back. Coupled with the high price tag that's believed to be attached to the device, the Galaxy F or however the Android handset ends up being called probably won't be a common sight on the streets.
Regardless, Samsung already confirmed it doesn't see the foldable device as an experiment but that start of a new product range meant to be sold simultaneously with the Galaxy S and Galaxy Note lines as its third flagship alternative revised on an annual basis. The commercial success of the first-generation smartphone should still be the main factor affecting how Samsung will treat its follow-up, though the biggest test it has to pass is relatively simple - be as durable as conventional handsets.
Impact: It's presently unclear how Samsung's existing tablet portfolio will or won't change once the company starts delivering foldable smartphones that it claims will be both tablets and many more things, especially once such products drop in price several years down the line. The global tablet market has been stagnating so combining that form factor with that of smartphones once flexible displays are affordable enough to manufacture may make sense for a company looking to maximize the effectiveness of its operations in the immediate term. Then again, Samsung is the type of manufacturer that still makes Android flip phones in 2018, with the firm recently doubling down on its niche efforts by commercializing a quadruple-camera mid-ranger in the form of the Galaxy A9. So, while profits are obviously important for Samsung, so are unique and sometimes bizarre devices targeting minor niches that remind consumers of the sheer versatility of its brand and R&D efforts, meaning the firm may not be axing conventional tablets anytime soon.
More details on the firm's vision of the mobile industry's future should follow no later than November 7, which is when the next edition of its annual Developer Conference is scheduled to start in San Francisco. Some recent rumors suggested the long-rumored foldable device may even be launching at that event, though Samsung has yet to give any indication of that being the plan. As for its marketing endeavors revolving around the Galaxy F, recent trademark filings suggested the slogan "The Future Unfolds" will be part of its promotional campaign for the device but Mr. Koh's latest statement may also be a sign that the tech giant has yet to finalize its desired course of action and decide whether to advertise the seminal gadget as a phone, tablet, both, or something even greater than a sum of its parts.