It's not often in the world of tech that companies admit their mistakes, but it's even rarer to see mobile giant Samsung Electronics admit it rushed the Galaxy Fold into production before its time. "It was embarrassing. I pushed it through before it was ready," Samsung Electronics CEO DJ Koh said about the recent misstep.
"I do admit I missed something on the foldable phone, but we are in the process of recovery. At the moment, more than 2,000 devices are being tested right now in all aspects. We defined all the issues. Some issues we didn't even think about, but thanks to our reviewers, mass volume testing is ongoing."
Samsung's Galaxy Fold was announced in February and given an April 26th launch date, but the device was pulled early due to design flaws and defective issues. One of those was the hinge, which captured dust, dirt, and other particles in it. Another pertained to reviewers who were pulling the polyamide film off the Fold thinking it was a screen protector rather than a special protective cover.
Some units were simply blinking out with various screen issues, flickering then dying completely for unknown reasons. After two days of getting their review units, some tech reviewers said their Galaxy Fold units were malfunctioning. Samsung recalled the product before the mass launch date so as to not bring forth what some say could've been tantamount to a second Galaxy Note 7 fiasco of different proportions.
DJ Koh's earnest confession that he rushed the product may seem to some to be an admission of, "I was sloppy and I know it," but the current state of tech, unfortunately, yields a rushed unveil. One must consider the threat Samsung has in the industry from Chinese vendors the likes of Huawei, Xiaomi, and others, who have always been able to churn out smartphones at cheaper prices with cutting-edge technology before Samsung (even technologies that Samsung patents first, for years).
Samsung isn't the first to bring forth an optical fingerprint sensor for its smartphones, for example, because Chinese vendor Vivo put one out before Samsung could get around to it.
When it comes to the Galaxy Fold, Samsung has been planning the foldable smartphone for years. The company has filed a lot of patents pertaining to foldable screens that fold like a book as well as a flexible hinge for the device. The hinge itself has taken so many years to patent before Samsung unveiled it in the Galaxy Fold. In this regard, the product wasn't rushed.
But patenting technologies and building a product where those technologies and ideas must work together are two different things. Samsung's Galaxy Fold may be seen by some as a new product that is doomed to fail like the Galaxy Note 7, but it is a different product in a category that phone makers have never branched out to before. It is truly cutting-edge, something new that Samsung had never designed until now.
"Our brand philosophy is 'do what you can't.' We make what can't be made, and do what can't be done. This [Galaxy Fold issue] is unfortunately sometimes part of the process," said Samsung Global Marketing Strategy Head Stephanie Choi.
And in the midst of it all, there was Chinese vendor Huawei Technologies Co., who is willing to put anything out on the market so long as it can say "we did it first." The nature of the tech business, though, says that "the one who does it first is the one who's known for it."
Samsung rushed the product to market to put its stake upon foldable smartphones. The company indeed deserves the title; no other OEM has filed as many foldable smartphone patents as Samsung. And when you're in a business where consumers only care about "who did it first," failure to put your product out there first means that you lose your claim upon the product forever. No matter how well an OEM does something, if it does it last, everyone forgets about it.
Samsung is in a business where its profit has come from being first, having the cutting edge over its competitors. Samsung, like Western consumers, appreciates originality of thought and unique ideas. Huawei, on the other hand, would've loved nothing more than to launch its foldable Mate X and claim "we did it first ahead of Samsung."
That first claim on foldable smartphones would have a financial impact down the line, even if Samsung filed so many patents for the technology and Huawei did not. Consumers don't care about patents; all they care about is the product.
Now, this is not to say that Samsung couldn't have taken better care with quality control testing. From here forward, there should be more quality control testing with reviewers for weeks before the product launches with everyday consumers.
Samsung could've announced the product, tested it for say, twelve weeks, then launched it with the Galaxy Note 10 — and no one would be any worse off for it. In the future, the Korean giant needs to take care of its testing. Make sure the product is usable without so many flaws, before bringing it to the public.
While Samsung should be chided for rushing it out to market with all its flaws, the company can't be chided for wanting to take what rightfully belongs to it: that is, its claim to be the first to bring foldables to market. No company wants to patent a new product category for eight years, only to watch another company steal its ideas and bring a product to market ahead of it.