Samsung’s Latest Foldables Show Benefits of Refinements

If you look back at the history of many important tech product introductions, an interesting pattern tends to emerge. Even products that—at their debut—seemed to be remarkable breakthroughs, often didn’t really make their true value and presence felt until a few iterations in.

The original iPhone, for example, only sold just over a million units and frankly, was a bit clunky to use. Two years later, the iPhone 3GS sold almost 40 million units and had started to evolve into the hugely impactful device we now understand it to be.

Foldable phones and Samsung’s Galaxy Z line, in particular, look to be following a conceptually similar path. The initial Galaxy Fold device—despite its early manufacturing challenges—was seen to be an extremely innovative, breakthrough design that portended the future of mobile computing and communications devices. Initial sales of the first generation were relatively modest, however—not a huge surprise given it’s original $1,980 price point. With the debut of their third-generation Galaxy Z Fold3 5G as well as the Galaxy Z Flip3 5G, however, Samsung is hoping to make a much more significant impact on the market and drive wider acceptance of the foldable category in general.

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Refinement, refinement

The key point with these third-generation models, both of which are powered by Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 888 SOC, is refinements in important areas that real-world consumers care about, including things like durability, weight, size and, for the Flip3, screen size. At first glance, both the Fold3 and Flip3 look relatively similar to their predecessors, but as you start to dig into the details you can see that Samsung managed to shave a bit of size and thickness off the Fold2. Much of this was driven by the company’s use of a new lightweight, more rugged version of aluminum that Samsung is calling Armour Aluminum for the main frame of the device. In addition, Samsung added IPX8 waterproofing—meaning it can handle up to 30 minutes of submersion under water and still function—to both devices, making them more durable in day-to-day use.

For the internal foldable screens, the new Z Fold and Z Flip have a more robust covering that the company says will make them up to 80% more durable than previous models. In addition, the outer screens of both devices are using Corning’s Gorilla Glass Victus, their latest iteration. Taken as a whole, these durability refinements keep the devices from being perceived as “delicate” and should make people feel more comfortable using them just as they do any other mobile phone (that is to say, probably pretty roughly).

Screen-related Enhancements

Each device also features screen-related enhancements designed to improve the overall experience of using them. In the case of the Flip3, it’s cover screen is four times larger than its predecessor, making it much easier to see notifications, preview photos, etc. On the Fold3, Samsung integrated an under-display camera on the main panel, allowing the entire 7.6” screen to be used for content, applications, etc. without any visual distractions.

Another important refinement for this round of devices is enabling functionality that many have wished for since the first generation. In the case of the Fold3, in particular, the ability to support pen input, for example, really starts to make the company’s claims of it being a multi-mode device more tenable. Unfortunately, Samsung isn’t bundling a pen with the Fold3 and, because there’s no place to hold one, you’ll need to purchase a case designed to hold the phone and the pen if you want to use it all the time.

Still, it’s a big step forward for the Fold line and really starts to put a question around the future of Samsung’s popular Galaxy Note line of phones. To be clear, Samsung has said it will continue to produce more iterations of the Note, but it’s hard to miss the fact that the Fold3 is being introduced at the same time of year that the Note line has been introduced in the past. Coincidence? I think not…

The Future is Foldable

In fact, it seems Samsung wants to encourage its large body of loyal Note users—who have typically always seen themselves as cutting edge technologists—that the future of smartphones is foldable. The simple truth is it hasn’t been possible to continue increasing the size of traditional slab phone screens for several years now. As a result, Note users and others who have been on a never-ending quest for larger screen sizes currently have no other choice but a foldable.

In addition to physical enhancements, part of what Samsung is trying to do with their foldable line is enhance the software and experience of using the devices. To that end, they’ve incorporated the hinge-based Flex Mode features from the Flip line into the Fold3 as well, making it easier to use the device for applications like videoconferencing and taking notes on the bottom folded half of the display. Samsung also highlighted how it’s working with several popular app makers from Microsoft to Netflix and Google to optimize their app experiences on foldable displays. Samsung has even developed a feature called Labs that lets users essentially improve the operation of some of their favorite non-optimized apps to function more elegantly on the Z Fold screens and devices.

Important Existing Capabilities

It also bears mentioning that there are a lot of important capabilities from the first- and second-generation Fold and Flip lines that, though often overlooked, are being carried over to these latest iterations. The Samsung Dex function which lets users connect either wired or wirelessly to a large-screen monitor and use an external Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, allows the Fold3 to function much like a PC, making it arguably close to a 3-in-1 (phone, tablet and PC). While it’s certainly not going to replace anyone’s PC, it does offer some interesting flexibility and opens opportunities for new kinds of workflows.

Both lines of devices offer Samsung’s Knox security capabilities, which provides an additional level of protection and management control that can be extremely important for business application and environments. Finally, of course, both devices continue to incorporate the latest 5G technologies and, in this case, that means support for additional C-band spectrum that’s expected to come online starting in 2022. The practical benefit of this is improved performance for critical mid-band 5G services that are going to be a big part of future 5G networks.

The Third Time’s the Charm

It’s often said that “the third time’s the charm” and it certainly looks like the refinements that Samsung is bringing to its third generation foldables could go a long way towards driving their wider acceptance. While the initial excitement about the category has arguably faded somewhat, I can say that as a heavy user of Galaxy Folds from the very beginning, I continue to be impressed by the capabilities and ease of use that a tablet-size screen in a mobile phone can offer. (I also never ceased to be amazed at how excited and how surprised people who have never seen a foldable—and that’s the vast majority of the population—are when they see me using my device.)

As with many other major tech innovations, it often takes several rounds of refinements to really make it big. Thanks to the enhancements in both the Z Fold3 5G and Z Flip3 5G, it would not shock me in the least to see that process soon start to gain momentum for the foldable category as a whole and these new Samsung offerings in particular.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn and is reproduced here with kind permission.

Bob O’Donnell is the president and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, LLC a market research firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services to the technology industry and professional financial community. You can follow him on Twitter @bobodtech.