Samsung Unpacked 2022: Setting The Table For Apple To Release Foldable Devices
Earlier this morning, Samsung concluded its latest Galaxy Unpacked webcast where, to no one’s surprise, it announced new foldable phones, an update to its Galaxy Buds Pro lineup and new smartwatches. From an appearance and visual style standpoint, Samsung Galaxy Unpacked events have taken on an increasing resemblance to Apple’s celebrated online events, replete with opening comedic segments, Hollywood-style graphics, drop-ins by the company’s marketers and repeated lifestyle-enhancement messaging. If it weren’t for the tour down memory lane opening highlighting prior Galaxy Unpacked broadcasts, you’d be forgiven if you mistook it for an Apple event during the first few minutes. For this blog, I’d like to provide some commentary on the foldable device segment of the Samsung event.
Samsung wants to cement its leadership in the foldable device space
Let’s be clear: any confusion that this year’s Galaxy Unpacked webcast was anything but a Samsung event quickly got dispelled as the company spent nearly seventeen minutes of the hour-long broadcast on its new foldable smartphones. The Z Flip4 looks uncannily like its predecessor and still flips down like the flip phones of yesteryear when Bill Clinton occupied the White House.
Since the day Samsung introduced its first foldable phone in late 2018, the company has realized that a new form factor, convenient as it might be for people who want a large screen but not the length of a big smartphone, must have unique and beneficial usage models to appeal to mainstream users. The new Z Flip4 has several exciting software capabilities up its sleeve, such as seeing selfie previews on the cover screen that have the same aspect as the picture itself. The smartphone now includes fast charging, which can charge the device up to 50 percent in about 30 minutes. Starting at $999, the Z Flip4 consists of a more powerful Qualcomm chipset for faster performance, though (disappointingly) its 12MP camera capability remains unchanged from the Z Flip3.
While the overall design of the Z Fold4, the company’s book-style foldable phone, isn’t changing much, the device is a bit lighter than the prior model. But the camera capability is getting a mammoth retrofit with a new 50-megapixel (no, that’s not a typo) primary sensor. Unfortunately, at $1,799, it’s one of the most expensive smartphones on the market.
Smartly, Samsung is doing much more to make the Z Fold4 more beneficial when its display is folded hallway. When the phone is in Flex mode, apps are “split” between the top and bottom portions of the screen when the Z Fold is propped open. Similar to the touchpad on a laptop, a user can use the bottom of the screen to manipulate content on the top half. It’s easy to see how this could become a highly convenient feature.
Navigating apps in Flex mode becomes a much easier task as the user won’t have to block the top portion of the screen during scrolling actions. The Z Flip4 is acquiring this feature as well. Samsung says that the Z Fold4 is the first device to ship with Android 12L, a version of Android that is tablet optimized. One of the very cool features of Android 12L is a new taskbar that makes swapping between apps more expedient.
Cameras are still crucial in foldable devices
Intuitively, most users interested in the Galaxy Fold form factor value the phone’s giant 7.6” inner screen, which is nearly as large as the Apple iPad Mini’s 8.3” display At a pricey $1,799 price point, Samsung wisely chose to equip it with substantially better camera functionality. The Fold4 has an impressive 50-megapixel primary camera, a significantly enhanced (and valuable) 3X telephone lens and narrow bezels. The latter point is essential as it makes the display somewhat less cramped and (especially) more like a normal phone. To be clear, there is still a tiny gap when the phone is folded close, confirming that Samsung hasn’t attained ideal flatness yet.
Samsung has also included a bevy of software updates to improve the overall multitasking experience. Several changes to the display structure and its critical screen protector should make the Fold 4 quite durable.
Apple is warming up foldable devices in the bullpen…though not this year
Despite Apple’s success in the large smartphone form factor category, people should be reminded that Samsung, not Apple, has consistently led the industry charge toward larger smartphone screens. In that context, history is repeating itself as Samsung appears to be fully committed to the concept of devices with foldable screens while Apple will play the role of fast follower.
There are broad indications that Apple will embrace foldable devices at some future point, though not this year. With manufacturing, durability and reliability challenges becoming less problematic (in part, ironically, to Samsung), user advantages with foldable device designs are simply too irresistible for Apple to ignore. It would not be shocking if Apple decided to embrace the newly designed MacBook or iPad as their initial foray into the foldable device space since the classic clamshell and tablet form factory category could sorely use an injection shot of innovation.
Betting what Apple may or may not announce is akin to wagering what two teams will be in the World Series on the first day of the baseball season. Putting the Apple factor aside, Samsung continues to show admirable innovation in the foldable device space, even though it may be iterative and incremental. Like Apple, Samsung knows compelling usage models that exploit the benefits of foldable devices are the keys to winning the heart and minds of mainstream users. Apple undoubtedly knows this as well, and its inevitable entrance into this space will generate heightened productivity, new forms of entertainment and a new era of smart device enthusiasm.
Mark Vena is the CEO and Principal Analyst at SmartTech Research based in Silicon Valley. As a technology industry veteran for over 25 years, Mark covers many consumer tech topics, including PCs, smartphones, smart home, connected health, security, PC and console gaming, and streaming entertainment solutions. Mark has held senior marketing and business leadership positions at Compaq, Dell, Alienware, Synaptics, Sling Media and Neato Robotics. Mark has appeared on CNBC, NBC News, ABC News, Business Today, The Discovery Channel and other media outlets. Mark’s analysis and commentary have appeared on Forbes.com and other well-known business news and research sites. His comments about the consumer tech space have repeatedly appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, TechNewsWorld and other news publications.
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