A Broken Galaxy Fold Is Bad for Samsung—and Even Worse for Folding Phones

April 22, 2019, 10:09 PM UTC

After a scourge of bad reviews citing broken displays, Samsung has delayed the debut of its Galaxy Fold foldable smartphone. “To fully evaluate this feedback and run further internal tests, we have decided to delay the release of the Galaxy Fold,” Samsung said in a statement on Monday. “We plan to announce the release date in the coming weeks.”

Considering the fallout surrounding the company’s previous high-profile hardware bust—2016’s Samsung Galaxy Note 7 and its exploding battery—the decision seems prudent. And while the Galaxy Fold’s botched launch is certainly a black eye for Samsung, it’s one that should quickly fade.

The main reason that the postponement shouldn’t be a big deal is because the $2,000 Galaxy Fold, an Android handset with a 4.6-inch touchscreen on the exterior and a hinged 7.3 display on the inside, isn’t a part of Samsung’s core smartphone business, says Josh Lowitz, co-founder of Consumer Intelligence Research Partners. “This is an important, new technology, but it’s also a fringe event.”

In other words, people who are more likely to buy the Samsung Galaxy S10 are likely to be unfazed by the unfolding debacle.

But where the most recent spate of bad press is a danger to Samsung is how it may cause casual consumers to compare the Galaxy Fold’s screen problem to the Note 7’s battery problem. Though that’s like comparing Apples to, well, Samsungs.

Offering a diverse lineup that appeals to many use cases, Samsung often pushes the limits of what its smartphones can do. And that’s precisely what Samsung did in 2016, when it looked to turn the Note 7 into a workhorse by pushing the previous model’s 3000 mAh battery capacity up to 3500 mAh. Ultimately, bad batteries from the supplier caused the Note 7 to combust, but Samsung took a very public $5.3 billion bath over massive the smartphone recall, and that’s what consumers remember most.

But it’s also important to realize that the Note 7 was already in consumers’ hands when it started failing fantastically. In the case of the Galaxy Fold, only reviewers got burned, figuratively. So any money Samsung will lose due to new parts, repairs, or a new design on the Fold is still much less than if the new smartphone had actually started shipping while defective.

“The marketplace is pretty tolerant of delayed launches these days,” says Lowitz, “and probably more-so than they are of defective products.”

Still, the Galaxy Fold’s postponement could be catastrophic for folding phones overall, as Samsung’s first-to-market position drew attention to the failure—not to the potential—of an entirely new smartphone category. Instead of wondering what they could do with this new technology, consumers might now collectively shrug at what they’re missing, because it doesn’t appear to work anyway.

Ultimately, when you’re creating a new product category, consultants and analysts (under non-disclosure agreements) see the product first, and reviewers typically see it last, says Ryan Reith, a vice president at IDC. “It seemed as though that timeframe and/or exposure was pretty minimal, in my opinion.”

As a result, it appears that Samsung failed to give enough thought to what people can actually do with a folding phone. “It did feel like—and it still does—that this product was rushed,” says Reith.

Reith speculates that the Galaxy Fold was zipped through the typical process because Samsung, like many other mobile phone makers, feels the pressure of a declining smartphone market. Getting the phone out before competitors like Huawei and Motorola debut their versions could have made a big difference to Samsung.

But bringing products to market before they are ready is bad for consumers, says Reith. “I hope this is a wakeup call to the others, as well. It’s probably worth sitting back and making sure these things are ready, not only technically, but also from the use-case perspective.”

“Most people are generally satisfied with their phones,” he adds. “If anything, they want better battery life, and this is certainly not going to help that.”

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