Samsung details its foldable display plans

Tech giant Samsung reckons there might be a market for a foldable phone that turns into a tablet.

Samsung has been banging on about flexible displays for years, but it has always been teased in a vague, utopian way. Just imagine a world in which devices can bend, they invited us to do on an annual basis, without going to far as to actually detail the practical benefits of such a thing. There was even talk of rollable displays that we could unfurl like a high-tech scroll.

But now, finally, all this talk has coalesced into an actual product: the Infinity Flex Display. It was revealed at Samsung’s developer conference in San Francisco, together with a concept smartphone that unfolds into a tablet and a new version of Samsung’s Android user interface called One UI.

“Samsung continues to build on its legacy of category-defining form factor and display innovation that has paved the way for a breakthrough foldable smartphone form factor,” said the supporting announcement. “The Infinity Flex Display together with One UI delivers a new kind of mobile experience allowing users to do things they couldn’t do with an ordinary smartphone.

“Users now have the best of both worlds: a compact smartphone that unfolds to reveal a larger immersive display for multitasking and viewing content. The app experience seamlessly transitions from the smaller display to the larger display as the device unfolds. In addition, users can browse, watch, connect and multitask without losing a beat, simultaneously using three active apps on the larger display.”

Clearly Samsung understands that just enabling novel form factors alone won’t achieve much; it needs to catalyse an ecosystem that develops applications and functions designed to make use of its unique qualities. Merely making use of the greater screen real estate would be unremarkable, but enabling a smooth transition between smartphone and tablet mode while, for example, watching a video might be handy.

A short video of the announcement can be seen in the Samsung tweet below, followed by one from veteran consumer tech hack Vlad Savov, which illustrates some of the challenges Samsung will face in turning its flexible display technology into something people will want. Lastly there’s an infographic from Samsung detailing how great it is at mobile displays, for anyone not already convinced of that.

 

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Samsung set to refocus its smartphone strategy on mid-tier devices

The head of Samsung’s mobile communications division has said he’s going to focus on mid-range devices for the introduction of new features from now on.

The new strategy was unveiled in an interview with CNBC, which said the move was born of a desire to appeal more to ‘millennials’ – the new word for young people. From this we can infer that, because younger people tend to have less cash, they buy cheaper phones. So far so bleeding obvious, but since that has always been the case it sheds little light on why Samsung has suddenly decided to move downmarket with its phones.

“In the past, I brought the new technology and differentiation to the flagship model and then moved to the mid-end,” said DJ Koh in the interview. “But I have changed my strategy from this year to bring technology and differentiation points starting from the mid-end… So we are very much focusing on millennials who cannot afford the flagship. But how can I deliver meaningful innovation to our millennials? That’s the reason I’m trying to differentiate the mid-section.”

All this talk of millennials smacks of spin. The flagship Galaxy S9 smartphone doesn’t seem to have had a great year and the top 15-20% of the market seems to be permanently owned by Apple, so maybe Samsung has decided it’s just too much risk and hassle to introduce its latest tech in that segment. If you try something new in devices that cost half the price and are much lower profile then, presumably, the cost of failure is much lower.

One of those new features could well be a foldable phone, which Samsung has been banging on about for at least a decade, but which Koh says may now be imminent. In a separate story CNBC quotes Koh as saying it’s time to deliver on a foldable after surveys indicated there might be demand for such a thing. But he still doesn’t seem to sure what the point of a folding phone is.

“You can use most of the uses … on foldable status,” said Koh. “But when you need to browse or see something, then you may need to unfold it. But even unfolded, what kind of benefit does that give compared to the tablet? If the unfolded experience is the same as the tablet, why would they buy it?”

It’s hard to see these moves as anything other than acts of desperation from Samsung. When the prospects of significantly reducing Apple’s share of the premium tier a weak and when competitors are producing flagship devices with similar specs at a fraction of the price, the top-end of the smartphone market must look pretty bleak. But whether or not Samsung can deliver the kinds of numbers it needs to by refocusing on the mid-market remains to be seen.