Samsung is alone at the folding party

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Samsung is throwing a party tomorrow with a couple of guests of honor: its foldable phones. We’ll likely see some updated watches and headphones, but it’s really a birthday party for the Z Fold and Z Flip. They’ve been around for years, but this past August is when they really hit their stride with the most popular models yet.

We likely won’t see dramatic upgrades or shocking price drops this year because Samsung doesn’t need to produce either of those emotions. It owns the category of folding phones, and probably will be for some time. It’s a folding party with a guest list of one: Samsung.

Lest we forget, the first iterations of the Fold and Flip were a bit of a mixed bag: awkward, overpriced, and not durable enough. But they got better. Last year’s Z Flip 3 and Z Fold 3 felt almost normal, with great water resistance and better usability.

The Fold 3 offers a durability rating that allows it to do this kind of thing.
Photo by Dieter Bohn/The Verge

Meanwhile, the rest of Samsung’s competitors seem to be stuck on early design iterations or not showing up at all. LG threatened to launch a rollable phone on the market shortly before it stopped making mobile devices altogether. The Motorola Razr 2020 is overpriced, underwhelming, and in need of an update. TCL talks about a great gaming concept, but has yet to deliver a foldable that anyone can buy.

It’s a different story if you live in China, where Oppo and Huawei offer foldable devices but are limited to that market. And I haven’t forgotten about the Surface Duo (although almost everyone else has, sorry Dan). But the numbers don’t lie: In 2021, Samsung shipped 10 million foldable devices, with a market share of 87 percent. It’s still a small part of the overall smartphone market, but it’s definitely something to celebrate if you’re Samsung.

Anyway, why Samsung? It’s a company that has taken advantage of its unique position to take the folding experiment as far as it has. For one thing, he could afford to fail. the first The first Fold was an absolute disaster, and the product that Samsung eventually shipped was only slightly better. Launch, and then unlaunch, then relaunching a niche experimental device is not cheap. Samsung apparently sells enough refrigerators to underwrite this sort of thing – a smaller company like TCL probably can’t take the same kind of risks.

Samsung as a company also has the right spirit to lead the way in foldable devices. You won’t see Apple launching a phone with a new experimental form factor and shaky long-term prospects. I’d rather come aboard when something’s certain. Google just figured out how to make a flagship phone that No fold and seems to be in no hurry to release one that does. Samsung is willing to take a gamble on something new and, more importantly, stand its ground during early growing pains. And hey, at least none of the early foldables were fire-prone.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 5G

The Z Flip 3 is a flip phone at the price of a conventional flagship.
Photo by Dan Seifert/The Verge

All signs point to the Z Fold and Z Flip 4 being minor and unexciting upgrades over their predecessors. And really, that is to be expected. The company has only just begun to dial down the recipe for a conventional flip phone. Why reform it now?

Samsung’s sometimes ugly early head start means it can now afford to cost quite a bit. As competitors begin to emerge in the next couple of years on a global scale, they too will have to suffer through those awkward first iterations. It is a new category of products. There’s no playbook on how to build a good flip phone like there is for the classic slab-style phone. The approach Samsung took isn’t the only way to go, but it’s the best way to get ahead while its competitors are all back on the starting line.

It’s not always going to be so lonely. Perhaps Apple will join in a few years, claiming it invented foldable phones on its own, naturally. There’s certainly room for Google, whenever it comes along, or any company that can figure out how to make a foldable that costs less than $1,000. But for now, go ahead and party like it’s your birthday, Samsung.

#Samsung #folding #party

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