Samsung is planning to hold another press event in early April for its foldable phone. The Galaxy Fold maker revealed its plans in an interview with The Verge at Mobile World Congress today, and hinted at a high-end luxury launch akin to what we saw with the Apple Watch Edition in its 2015 debut.
“At the beginning of April we’ll have the full press normal Unpacked that we do,” says Kate Beaumont, director of product, services, and commercial strategy at Samsung UK. The press event will provide a closer look at the handset, and will be held a few weeks before the product is expected to hit stores on April 26th, priced at $1,980.
It’s a price that surprised members of the audience at Samsung’s Galaxy S10 launch event last week, and will mean most consumers will stick to traditional smartphones until these foldable phone prices drop. Samsung is embracing that, though, and targeting its foldable phone at the high-end premium market. “We’ll have less supply than we would of the S10 at launch, and also how it goes to market is really important to us,” explains Beaumont. “This is a super premium device, and we want to make sure it has a concierge-like service and experience, so it’s not going to be on display in all stores. You’re not going to see it on the stands, we want to make sure it’s a very personal experience. There will be quite intensive aftercare that goes with it as well.”
That means you won’t be walking into your local store to try out the Galaxy Fold, and then sign a contract and walk off. It sounds like Samsung is taking a similar approach to how Apple launched its $10,000 Apple Watch Edition, with supplies restricted to select retailers. I asked Beaumont whether the Galaxy Fold would be limited to luxury stores like Selfridges in London, but Samsung isn’t detailing its exact retail plans until April.
Samsung has taken a different approach to Huawei with its foldable phone, opting to fold the screen so it’s enclosed like a book. The main tablet-like display is 7.3 inches, and Samsung is using a smaller 4.6-inch display on the outside of the device as the phone section. Compared to modern smartphones, this display is flanked by large bezels, while Huawei is folding its display outwards so when it’s folded you have a dual-screen smartphone.
“We considered a lot of options,” says Beaumont. “There’s things like if you want to put a case on it, usability, durability, and we feel that having the screen on the inside is the best way to protect that screen. We have the technology to do a fold that is very very tiny, as of course if you have the fold on the outside it doesn’t take quite the same amount of research and development to get that device to fold as it does something that is folding with a much lower angle degree on it.”
Just how durable Samsung or Huawei’s foldable displays will be is a largely unanswered question. While we’ve briefly managed to touch Huawei’s device, both Samsung and Huawei are restricting access to their devices. Samsung has provided a closer glimpse of the Galaxy Fold thanks to a 4-minute video, though. Samsung has also committed to a firm launch date of April 26th, while Huawei has a vague “middle of this year” launch planned.
So why release a foldable phone right now for $1,980, why is this the perfect time? “I think everybody has become a little bit jaded at the lack of innovation around the [smartphone] form factor, but you don’t want to create a form factor for the sake of it,” says Beaumont. “As we move into 5G, I don’t think it’s a coincidence where we’ve got timing that’s going to open up all sorts of augmented reality experiences, whether it’s a hologram on your folding phone or who knows what’s coming in the future. I think at the moment everyone is sort of saying ‘ok I can see how you’d get some usage out of that.’ I personally think over the next few years it will be a no-brainer as to why you’d want a foldable device.”