Samsung Is Doubling Down On Foldable Phones In 2021, And It Might Just Work

In the coming year, Samsung has big plans for foldable phones.

Samsung believes that more foldable phones will be available in the coming year. But, are foldable phones finally here?

We’ll soon find out. As the year comes to a close, Samsung Electronics president TM Roh shared an overview of the electronics giant’s mobile plans for 2021, with one of the highlights appearing to be that the Galaxy Z Fold 2 and Galaxy Z Flip 5G can expect some company very soon.

“True to our heritage of staying ahead of the curve with trailblazing mobile technology, we’ll be expanding our portfolio of foldable to make this game-changing category more accessible to everyone,” Roh wrote (opens in new tab).

Given Samsung’s rocky start in the foldable space, this is a significant improvement. The initial Galaxy Fold, which was first previewed in 2019, had some design flaws, forcing Samsung to postpone the launch. The original Fold showed promise when it first debuted, but not nearly enough to justify its $1,980 asking price.

Samsung’s foldable phones are still quite expensive, but things have improved significantly in the last year. The Galaxy Z Fold 2 addressed many of the issues with the original Fold by introducing a more durable design. The Galaxy Z Flip gave Samsung a much more polished foldable flip phone than the rival Motorola Razr. In addition, both the Fold and the Flip supported a new Flex mode that took advantage of foldable designs to allow you to use apps in novel ways.

“Samsung recognizes that its early bet on foldable can fully pay off if Samsung expands into affordable price segments where competition is minimal,” said Avi Greengart, founder and lead analyst of Techsponential, in a post on Samsung’s 2021 phone plans.

Another reason for Samsung to strike while the iron is hot, according to Ramon Llamas, IDC’s research director for devices and displays. “Samsung appears to have found more success than competitors such as Motorola in the United States or Royole in Asia,” he said. “Unless other vendors gain traction with their foldable smartphones, Samsung may be able to lock up this product category for itself.”

But how will Samsung accomplish this? The answer appears to be based on building on some of the company’s early successes with this year’s crop of foldable phones. Here are a few reasons why Samsung is optimistic about the prospects for future foldable devices as the new year approaches.

Phone screens that fold have become more durable

The first foldable phones had plastic displays, which were a necessary compromise because glass isn’t very good at bending, but left devices feeling flimsy and cheap. That is not the message you want to send when you ask people to pay up to $2,000 for a phone.

Starting with the Galaxy Z Flip, Samsung incorporated an ultra-thin glass layer into its foldable lineup. (The same layer can be found on the Galaxy Z Fold 2.) The distinction was night and day. The devices now had the kind of polish you’d expect from a high-end phone while still withstanding the regular wear and tear that comes with folding and unfolding the screen.

Samsung figured out how to make the foldable form factor work better.

A phone that simply folds shut is little more than a novelty. To be a more compelling option, a foldable phone must capitalize on its unique ability to expand and contract — which Samsung accomplished this year.

We’ve already mentioned Flex mode, which uses the hinge on both the Galaxy Z Fold 2 and Galaxy Z Flip to keep a portion of the screen at a 90-degree angle. This allows certain apps to use the top half of the screen for viewing and the bottom half for controls — think YouTube videos playing on one half of the device while you control playback and comment on the video on the other.

The Fold, in particular, remains a multitasker’s dream, with the ability to run three apps on its 7.6-inch main display at the same time. You can even connect those apps so that they all launch at the same time. And app continuity enables you to open an app on the Fold’s now-larger cover display and resume where you left off when you open the phone to use the larger screen.

To popularize foldable phones, Samsung should do more this, including collaborating with app developers to ensure that their software is optimized for foldable screens. “Does every app that [potential foldable phone owners] want to use work flawlessly on a foldable device?” Llamas inquired. “If not, then purchasing a device like this is out of the question.”

Prices for foldable phones are about to fall

Roh promised more “accessible” devices when he promised to expand Samsung’s foldable lineup. Take this to mean they’ll be more affordable because that’s the only way Samsung can go.

Despite its improvements, the Galaxy Z Fold 2 still costs $1,999, which is out of reach for the majority of smartphone buyers. The Galaxy Z Flip is less expensive, but only marginally so, with the 5G version costing USD 1,449. Samsung’s prices are also competitive with other foldable devices — the Motorola Razr 5G costs $1,399. The LG Wing is less expensive at $999, but it isn’t a truly foldable phone; rather, it has a second screen tucked beneath the first that swivels out when needed.

“Even at $1500, [foldable phones] are still more expensive than most other flagship devices,” Llamas said, citing Apple’s iPhone 12 Pro Max and Samsung’s most popular Galaxy S devices.

If Samsung is serious about making foldable more affordable, it should aim to compete with the LG Wing for under $1,000. “To grow its market share — and steal some iOS users along the way,” Techsponential’s Greengart wrote, “Samsung needs to bring refined, attractively foldable below the $1,000 price point where most phone sales live.”

Foldable phone outlook

Even with more foldable phones on the way in 2021, don’t expect the iPhone 13 or Galaxy S21 to be eclipsed by the latest Galaxy Z Fold — or whatever other design Samsung has in the works. Despite the rapid advancement of foldable, they remain a niche product, even if the price has dropped slightly.

“The larger viewing area is certainly appealing, as is having multiple apps open on the same screen,” Llamas of IDC said. “But, when it comes down to it, most users would probably prefer to save money while still getting a good experience from a slab-style smartphone. Foldables are expected to appeal to technophiles and early adopters.”

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