Date
19 May 2019
As it investigates reports of screen-related problems, Samsung has deferred the launch of its Galaxy Fold smartphone. Photo: Bloomberg
As it investigates reports of screen-related problems, Samsung has deferred the launch of its Galaxy Fold smartphone. Photo: Bloomberg

Samsung had no choice but to delay Galaxy Fold launch

Samsung has suffered a major embarrassment as it has been forced to walk back plans for a rollout of the Galaxy Fold smartphone in the market. Just days before a scheduled launch in the US, the Korean electronics giant has put off the release of the new product to an unspecified later date.  

The loss of face notwithstanding, the world’s No. 1 smartphone maker had no choice but to defer retail sales of the new foldable device as it needs to look into potential quality-related issues.

Having given out some units to technology journalists, analysts and bloggers for reviews ahead of the market launch, Samsung received complaints about malfunctioning screens.  

Writing about their experience with the new device that carries a price tag of almost US$2,000, multiple reviewers warned of issues related to the displays, citing problems such as freezing, flickering or even going dead after only one or two days.

Some reviewers, it seems, wrongly tore down a protective layer on the screen that made the phones malfunction. Still, as more complaints came in, Samsung had no option but to put off the market rollout as it needed to look into the product and fix potential issues. 

The company scrapped the planned April 26 launch in the US and also cancelled pre-release media events that had been scheduled for this week in Hong Kong, mainland China and some other locations.

Bearing in mind a major fiasco suffered previously in 2016, when the Korean tech giant had to recall the Galaxy Note 7 due to battery troubles, Samsung said it will look into the issues pertaining to the Fold and will do more testing before the official launch.

The company may have staved off a big disaster if it indeed uncovers any real problem in the Fold screens. Still, the entire episode, it must be said, hasn’t done any good to the firm’s brand image.

Questions will be asked as to how Samsung delivered testing units to technology reviewers without first making sure that the devices will work absolutely fine. If the product was given out for media reviews, it means it was the final gadget that would have gone on sale in the market.

So, how come the company failed to detect the quality issues, and it was left to the reviewers to flag the potential problems? 

While some features could be improved through software upgrade after getting feedback from reviewers, hardware problems, especially for the foldable screen and the hinge section, would be quite difficult for last minute upgrade or change.

Hence, it was expected that Samsung would sort out all the hardware issues before handing the devices for reviews. But given what has happened now, it is clear that the company didn’t do its homework properly.

The foldable screen weakness, as noted by reviewers, is too significant to be neglected. Foldable screen is a new technology on the smartphone. It is quite challenging for smartphone makers to use such technology in a frequently used device.

As the screen uses a soft material for the foldable feature, it is different from traditional smartphone screens with a glass for protection. Hence, usage requires more care. The problem arising from the testing units could be due to the fact that the users were yet to adapt to the new technology.

Some tech reviewers encountered problems after unknowingly peeling off the top layer of the Galaxy Fold’s display — effectively removing part of the phone’s screen — believing it had been a protective cover, the Wall Street Journal noted.

But some others, who hadn’t removed any part of the display, also reported issues related to hinges or flickering screens. That said, some tech reviewers said they didn’t encounter problems. Given the conflicting reports, it can be argued that the problems may have stemmed from improper handling of the device, rather than anything to do with the folding gadget itself.

Still, Samsung had no choice but to take a relook at the product and fix any issues before releasing it officially onto the market. The company cannot afford any misstep in relation to the Galaxy Fold if it is to successfully open a new premium segment for itself in the smartphone business.

Getting things right will be important also because Samsung is facing a serious threat from China’s Huawei Technologies, which is preparing to launch its own foldable screen smartphone in the coming months.

Samsung had been expected to ship one million Galaxy Fold units this year. Though the device will represent only a tiny portion of the company’s overall business, a successful launch will be crucial for the firm’s prospects down the road.  

The Korean firm is well aware that it cannot afford a repeat of the Note 7 disaster that it suffered three years ago. In 2016, Samsung encountered problems with its Galaxy Note 7 units due to a battery issue which led to the device catching fire in some cases. Amid safety concerns, airlines banned Note 7 from flights. Eventually, Samsung had to pull the devices from the market in a costly recall.

The foldable screen technology used by Samsung in Galaxy Fold is a much advanced technology than what Huawei and other Chinese firms have used. However, given the problems found by reviewers, consumers will wonder whether the foldable screen may be just a gimmick or simply a technology for demonstration, rather than that meant for daily use.

Customers may also question the product proposition. Should they really go for a foldable device for a bigger screen experience?  After paying nearly US$2,000, if what one gets in the end is something with a fragile screen, is it really worth it? Moreover, is the foldable screen technology mature enough to be an end product in the market?

There are some of the topics that Samsung needs to contend with if it is to convince smartphone users to make a costly upgrade.

Samsung may be suffering from being a “first mover” in the foldable screen smartphone arena. The issues flagged by reviewers offer an opportunity for the firm get a better handle on the Galaxy Fold and nip problems in the bud. 

Putting off the launch of the much-hyped product at the last minute, Samsung is no doubt recalling the old lesson: it is better to be safe than sorry.

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RC

EJ Insight writer

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