When open, the Galaxy Fold looks something like an Android tablet.
Instead of a press release filled with glowing reviews and flowery superlatives, Samsung is doing a bit of damage control the week before its next-generation Galaxy Fold is due to hit stores. As it turns out, the $2,000 device might not be ready for prime time, as numerous early reviewers posted pics and videos of their devices in various stages of ruin.
In some cases, the screen protector was accidentally removed, creating issues with the polymer display. But many of the problems were issues that appeared to be quality control related, an embarrassing problem for a phone that’s being touted as the next big thing. And that’s not to mention the crease, bulkiness, or buggy software.
That might seem like a small sample size, but consider that there are very few Galaxy Folds in circulation right now. And they’ve only been in people’s hands for a day or two. For its part, Samsung has collected the affected units and replaced them, while issuing the following statement:
A limited number of early Galaxy Fold samples were provided to media for review. We have received a few reports regarding the main display on the samples provided. We will thoroughly inspect these units in person to determine the cause of the matter.
Separately, a few reviewers reported having removed the top layer of the display causing damage to the screen. The main display on the Galaxy Fold features a top protective layer, which is part of the display structure designed to protect the screen from unintended scratches. Removing the protective layer or adding adhesives to the main display may cause damage. We will ensure this information is clearly delivered to our customers.
That’s akin to Steve Jobs’s famous “You’re holding it wrong” in response to the iPhone 4’s antenna issues. Words like “limited,” “samples,” and “few” make it seem like the problems are extremely rare, but in reality, they’re fairly widespread for a product that is due to go on sale in a week. Samsung has already sold out of pre-orders. And it wouldn’t have handed out review units if it wasn’t confident the quality was up to snuff.
Besides, these aren’t small problems that can be fixed with a software update, like the Apple Watch Series 3’s cellular issues. They’re a pretty clear indication that the Galaxy Fold isn’t ready for release and the reason why Samsung is the first and only phone maker mass-producing a phone with a folding screen. It’s Apple’s old adage: A thousand nos for every yes. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. At least not yet.
The folding future
When the Galaxy Fold and Huawei Mate X were shown off in February, people were rightfully enamored. No longer were folding screens limited to concept videos and sci-fi movies—here was something we could actually buy. As expected, it didn’t come cheap, but that didn’t stop people from rolling over them.
So the first real-world impressions were filled with awe and wonder. When I got a chance to actually touch the Mate X, it felt like I was trying out something impossible. Even with its compromises and oddities, there was a serious wow factor to watching a tablet fold out into somethings genuinely pocketable. It felt like the future had truly arrived, but at the same time I wondered how much better it would be with an Apple logo on it. Samsung and Huawei had captured the collective imagination of the masses, and for a moment the iPhone XS Max seemed a little less revolutionary.
But if the early units are any indication, Apple is once again playing the smarter long game. Whether or not folding phones become a thing, the Galaxy Fold will likely go down in history as a footnote, much like the first Galaxy Gear smartwatches. Samsung technically beat Apple to market with the square smartwatch format, but with a bulky design and underwhelming features (remember the wrist camera?), they didn’t move the needle much.
Then the Apple Watch came out and everything changed. While there are plenty of things about the original model that have been refined and changed over the years—not to mention the ridiculous solid-gold edition—the Apple Watch was the first smartwatch that truly got it right. It didn’t try to do too much, it didn’t sacrifice design for engineering, and it didn’t matter what its competitors were doing. In fact, three generations later, the Apple Watch has a nearly identical form factor, and I’m willing to bet the Series 5, 6, 7, and 8 will too.
And it’ll be the same with a folding iPhone, if one ever arrives. Apple will take the time to conceptualize, prototype, iterate, and refine behind the scenes so customers get the best possible version of the iPhone Fold. It’s not just that it’ll work beyond the second day of use—it’ll have the best design, with the best software, and the best features, even if it tales another three years to get there.
Because it takes a long time and a lot of nos to get that yes.
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Michael Simon has been covering Apple since the iPod was the iWalk. His obsession with technology goes back to his first PC—the IBM Thinkpad with the lift-up keyboard for swapping out the drive. He's still waiting for that to come back in style tbh.