Technology

Samsung’s Galaxy Unpacked is a foldable party of one

Samsung’s Galaxy Unpacked is a foldable party of one

Samsung is throwing a party tomorrow with a few guests of honor: the foldable phones. We’ll probably see some updated watches and earbuds, but really, it’s a birthday celebration for the Z Fold and the Z Flip. They’ve been around for years, but this past August they really took off with the most mainstream models to date.

We probably won’t see any dramatic upgrades or shocking price drops this year, as Samsung doesn’t have to produce any of those strains. It owns the foldable phone category and probably will for a while. It’s a foldable party with a guest list of one: Samsung.

Lest we forget, early versions of the Fold and Flip were a bit half-baked: clunky, overpriced and not durable enough. But they got better. Last year’s Z Flip 3 and Z Fold 3 felt almost normal, with robust water resistance and better usability.

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

Meanwhile, the rest of Samsung’s competitors seem to be stuck with early design iterations or not appearing at all. LG threatened to release a rollable phone shortly before it stopped making mobile devices altogether. The 2020 Motorola Razr is overpriced, disappointing and overdue for an update. TCL is talking about a great concept game, but has yet to deliver a foldable game that anyone can buy.

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

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Anyway, why Samsung? It’s a company that has leveraged its unique position to take the folding experiment as far as it has. First, it could afford to fail. The first The first Fold was an unmitigated disaster, and the product Samsung ended up shipping was only slightly better. Launch, then unlaunch, then relaunch an experimental niche device is not cheap. Samsung apparently sells enough refrigerators to insure 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 ethos to be at the forefront of foldables. You won’t see Apple launch a phone with an experimental new form factor and shaky long-term outlook. It prefers to go on board when something is certain. Google just figured out how to make a flagship phone that not fold and seems in no rush to launch one that does. Samsung is willing to bet on something new and, more importantly, stick with it during its early growing pains. And hey, at least none of the early foldables were prone to catch fire.

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Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 5G

The Z Flip 3 is a foldable phone priced like a mainstream flagship.
Photo by Dan Seifert / The Verge

All signs point to the Z Fold and Z Flip 4 being minor, unexciting updates over their predecessors. And really, that’s to be expected. The company has just started introducing the recipe for a mainstream foldable phone. Why revise now?

Samsung’s early, sometimes ugly lead means it can afford a bit now. If and when competitors appear on a global scale in the coming years, they will have to suffer through those awkward first few iterations, too. It is a new product category. There is no playbook on how to build a good foldable phone like there is for the classic plate style phone. The approach Samsung has taken isn’t the only way to tackle this, but it’s the best way forward while your competitors are all back on the grid.

It won’t always be this lonely. Perhaps in a few years Apple will join in — claiming it invented the foldable phones, of course, all on its own. There’s definitely room for Google, when it comes out, or whatever company can figure out how to make a foldable device that costs less than $1,000. But for now, go ahead and party like it’s your birthday, Samsung.

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