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Foldable phones like the Galaxy X aren’t the innovation I want

by Justin Herrick | January 16, 2018January 16, 2018 12:30 pm PST

The mobile industry is begging for innovation. We haven’t seen anything remarkable in a few years now, and barely anyone is showing signs that they’ll step forward. And by “innovation” I mean something that not just impresses us but also makes its way into mainstream products. If your ambitious new idea is only on a prototype or something that’s guaranteed to not sell, is it really innovative? Companies should be investing in technologies that advance user behavior, not just collect headlines. It seems that later this year we’re going to see a risky bet from the world’s largest smartphone brand.

Samsung is likely introducing the Galaxy X in the second half of 2018. The name may not sound too familiar unless you follow the news closely, but it’s simply the placeholder for whatever the company ends up calling its foldable phone. That’s right, folks. Maybe the Next Big Thing will be a phone you can bend at the center into a compact, more portable item.

It’ll be downright impressive once Samsung (or anyone else) finally achieves the type of design long showcased at trade shows like CES and MWC. But there’s just no real want, and definitely need, for the technology. Not a single prototype ever put on display has caused anyone but tech nerds to get excited. Even that particular group probably won’t care once consumer-ready foldable phones hit the market. Our plain, flat slabs of glass and aluminum are perfectly suitable today and for years to come.

Here’s why I don’t want a foldable phone, likely ever.

No one’s asking for it

There’s nothing inherently wrong with the way our phones look and feel. Every brand is capable of making an attractive phone whether it costs $200 or $1,000. You’re no longer stuck with a cheap, ugly product if your budget is on the smaller side. Now there are high-end, mid-range, and low-end phones that remind us how far design has come.

When there is a change in design for the mobile industry, it happens gradually. There isn’t a big influx of phones with a particular feature. And this is standard across all areas, including processors and cameras. Design, though, makes this slow-but-steady theory apparent.

Until the iPhone came along, the vast majority of mobile devices were made of plastic and sometimes rubber. Apple started the trend to make a product’s vibe match its price. Android’s partners slowly followed, notably HTC with the One (M7) in 2013. Still no one cared all that much because glass and metal are expensive to obtain and implement. But then Samsung’s Galaxy S6 hit in 2015. All of a sudden the gates burst open and those materials are expected from flagships.

So look at the time it took for a now-common quality to go mainstream. The same is occurring now for thin bezels, edge-to-edge displays, and the USB-C port. The mobile industry doesn’t believe in the expression, “if you build it, they will come.” It’s more like, “if they want it, they will come.”

Consumers have demanded their phones be made from premium materials while the fronts of them show a display and little else.

Consider all the phones that have shipped with a hinge connecting two separate displays. We’ve seen it done numerous times, most recently by ZTE with the Axon M. So let’s briefly focus on the Axon M to understand how little interest there is in this type of thing. ZTE hosted a big, fancy launch event for the phone in New York City. Hundreds of media members from around the world attended. Plenty of buzz was generated out of the gate, but now you never hear about the Axon M. That’s because the average consumer never asked for a phone with two displays to double how much they see and interact with at a single time.

Of course, ZTE doesn’t have as much brand recognition and loyalty as Samsung, but any industry-changing technology will catch fire if consumers care. The Axon M flopping indicates the odds are not in the Galaxy X’s favor. But, to be fair, Samsung is one of the few companies around that can spend a huge amount of money on something that doesn’t pan out too well. If anything, it’ll simply have wasted everyone’s time by releasing a foldable phone.

Really, no one but tech nerds would like a foldable phone. We’re happy with what we have.

Modern smartphone design isn’t broke, so it should only be improved incrementally. The Galaxy X will throw out everything we know and love about today’s phones for the sole purpose of being flashy.

That hinge can’t handle a drop

Drops, knocks, and bumps aren’t kind to any phone. They’re going to be worse for the Galaxy X. Imagine the phone hitting the ground, regardless of the point of impact being the hinge or not. No matter where the impact is, the hinge will feel it.

Don’t think you’re going to be able to put a proper case on the Galaxy X. A regular silicone-based case would only be able to cover the two sections and not the hinge itself. So the hinge will always be vulnerable.

Glass that covers a display or a phone’s back isn’t indestructible. Corning can roll out as many versions of Gorilla Glass as it likes, and Apple can find some top-secret sapphire. None of it makes the glass on your phone impossible to break. If you want something that doesn’t break, you’ll have to settle for something that does scratch. However, that’s not glass. That’s plastic, which everyone in this industry hates. Adding a hinge to the mix means the Galaxy X will be more damage-prone than any other phone in history.

Over time, too, the hinge is bound to weaken. Ask anyone who’s owned a laptop. Eventually the Galaxy X’s hinge will weaken only by use, and then owners will be crying for their plain slab-style phones back.

Where are my notifications?

Reportedly there are two foldable phones being developed by Samsung. Both are set to be released to the public but at different times due to their slight differences in design. One folds inward while the other folds outward, the former resembling clamshell phones that smartphones replaced. And it’s the outward-folding version expected first.

Think about your notifications. Currently your phone either wakes the display or shows a notification light every time an app alerts you of something. Always-on displays, too, have become a viable option. Samsung’s in-ward folding version can’t easily accomplish any of this. You’re stuck looking at what will be a miniature display and, to actually get anything done, you’ll need to ‘open’ the phone physically.

The-outward folding version should resolve this complaint as the display would always be visible in some capacity, but again there’s really no one asking for this type of setup. Phones are already thin and light enough to go with us anywhere. We have no use in folding our phones for size concerns. Who knows, maybe there’s a throwback experience Samsung wants to give in which users have a futuristic clamshell phone to show off. Bizarre, indeed.

People love nostalgia, but they only like it in limited quantities and for a limited time. Samsung would be remiss to ship a phone that doesn’t have a normal, full-sized display showing everyday information at a glance. It won’t be enough for the Galaxy X to have a small ticker-like display on the outer shell.

Based on what we know so far, it would seem the Galaxy X will be odd-looking to say the least.

Pricing is already out of control

We love our phones. We do not love our phones’ prices. The battle against this has, frankly, gotten worse and not better. Samsung started the trend with the Galaxy Note 8 ($950), and Apple continued it with the iPhone X ($999). These companies have realized that, due to their loyal followings, they can raise their pricing despite new hardware not being leaps and bounds better than what we already have.

Consumers had their opportunity to reject this outrageous strategy. They, and I’m including myself in that group, have failed. Both the iPhone X and Galaxy Note 8 are high-selling products in the U.S. and globally. Now we have to be prepared for prices to stay at sky high levels.

There’s no doubt that Samsung would use a foldable phone to charge more money. Want something no one else has? You’re going to have to pay extra for it. And there will definitely be a small number of consumers who say “no problem” and throw down big bucks. The rest of us will be shaking our heads wondering who in their right mind would pay over $700 for a product that’s essentially a test run.

Any way you view it, the Galaxy X doesn’t seem like a good idea on paper. It’s not like the Galaxy Note Edge that debuted alongside the Galaxy Note 4 in 2014. Back then, Samsung showed us a minor tweak to the display that offered various advantages. The dual-curved edges were brought to the Galaxy S6 Edge, and that phone’s success led to the feature becoming standard on all of Samsung’s flagships.

A foldable phone, meanwhile, appears to be a pure attention grab; one that the media will jump on because it’s our job, but consumers will have a look and realize it’s not needed. Samsung needs to go back to the drawing board and give us true innovation. Then I’ll be happy to hand over my hard-earned money.


Justin Herrick

Justin is easily attracted to power buttons. His interest in technology started as a child in the 1990s with the original PlayStation, and two...

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