The Android industry as a whole has overhyped the concept of foldable smartphones to the point of near exhaustion, but none is a worse offender than Samsung. It's been teasing a foldable device for many years now (see 2014 concept below) but the feat of actually producing one that's durable and functionally innovative enough to commercially release has clearly been too challenging — at least, up until this point. CNBC has now reported that the mobile hardware giant has plans to unveil more details about a forthcoming foldable smartphone this year.
DJ Koh, CEO of Samsung's mobile division, told CNBC reporter Arjun Kharpal that Samsung has "nearly concluded" its development of the product, and that "it's time to deliver" on a foldable smartphone. Koh hinted that more details may come to light during the annual Samsung Developer Conference in November — which is unusual, considering the conference traditionally doesn't yield any hardware reveals. However, an unveiling or partial unveiling in November fits well with the timelines in reports published earlier this year, including a January report that the device might arrive in December or early 2019, and a July report from Wall Street Journal that suggested an early 2019 launch.
An early Samsung foldable smartphone concept from 2014.
Given the consensus these reports offer, it seems fair to begin cautiously anticipating the long-awaited device — but if we're truly about to see Samsung's mythical foldable phone, the question becomes, who will want it? Koh said consumer surveys carried out by his company showed there was a market for the product, but admitted that this was a central question in development. "If the unfolded experience is the same as the tablet, why would they (consumers) buy it?" Koh said at the IFA electronics show in Germany last week.
While Samsung may have come up with a response to that question, Koh refused to divulge that answer, or any design details about the phone. The WSJ report, though, suggested the smartphone will use a single, 7-inch, bendable screen.
In the meantime, competitors like ZTE (which already produced a rather uninspired dual-screen device), Lenovo, Huawei, and countless others will continue to do their best at generating buzz for this new mobile product. Whether any of them — or Samsung itself — will be able to come up with a compelling reason to invest in a bulky sometimes-tablet, is another story altogether.