As a technology analyst – primarily focused on how businesses use tech-based solutions to improve the customer and business outcomes – it is important to look across to the consumer tech world every now and then. Consumer trends end up driving many business technology initiatives. To that end, I keep one eye firmly on the mobile device segment – as consumer devices are the same devices that end up in businesses (as BlackBerry discovered the hard way!).
Samsung Device Launch
Samsung just launched their third generation of foldable devices – the Galaxy Z Fold3 and Galaxy Z Flip3 (both 5G devices). The VERY clear message that Samsung gave through the pre-launch content and launch event is that foldable devices are no longer a niche segment. Samsung expects them to go mainstream over the next 12-24 months. They made some significant changes to the pricing and availability of their new devices to get them into more stores and retailers, to put them in front of potential buyers. They also reduced the prices by 15-20% (although they are still premium devices). By adding pen support to the Z Fold3 they indicated that this is their new “hero” device – (allegedly) taking the place of the Note series in Samsung’s line-up.
Samsung has made changes to make the phone more acceptable to the mass market – making it more durable, introducing IPX8 water resistance, improving speaker and sound quality, improving the brightness of the screens, and removing the “camera hole”. But some of the biggest changes have come in the software. They provide an experience that is designed for the larger screen – not just taking the existing content and stretching it. They have also taken an idea from Samsung DeX and introduced the ability for all apps to be stretched to the larger screen. While this is not a perfect solution, it works pretty well in the DeX world – and I’ll reserve my judgement on the Z Fold3 until I have some hands-on time with it.
The Z Flip3 appears to be targeting iPhone owners along with premium Android device users. The price is very similar to the iPhone 12, and it is a well spec’d device with a large screen but a small form factor when folded. It needs to rely less on software to make the form factor usable but has a few tricks that will appeal to teenagers in particular (such as the ability to do a video call with the phone partly folded).
Samsung Should Witness Strong Growth of these Devices
So will we see more foldable phones over the next twelve months? Samsung has gone a long way to (a) get more foldable phones into the hands of consumers, and (b) make that experience one that they recommend to friends and family – which was an issue with previous generation devices. Consumers who tend towards the “hero” device will be more tempted by this phone than ever before. Some previous Samsung Galaxy Note move to the Z Fold3 – others to the Galaxy S series. We will even see some Apple users make the switch towards Samsung to take advantage of the big screen on the Z Fold3 or the smaller form factor of the Z Flip3. Every iPhone user who is also carrying an iPad is a target for the Z Fold3 – they are (a) used to spending a lot of money on a device (b) already lugging around a lot of hardware.
So while it will be a slow burn to get the penetration of foldable devices higher, I believe Samsung has got close to the sweet spot. And while I don’t expect Apple will release a foldable device this year, if Samsung is successful, we can expect their development efforts to ramp up for a future device next year. And maybe it won’t be what we expect (maybe a foldable iPad mini?). But as batteries get smaller and more powerful, flexible screens get more durable and demand for larger screens continues, it feels like the opportunity for foldable devices will only continue to grow.
Enterprises Need to Prepare for Foldable Devices
This is important to enterprises:
- Users with foldable screens will be your customers – they will expect an experience that takes advantage of the extra real estate. This might be a shopping app that has the items on the left and the cart on the right, or a transport app that has a map on the right and information about the transport services on the left; and
- Your employees will bring these foldable screens into your business – and you will want them to use their devices to help them do their job better than they do today.
As discussed in my previous analysis when the original Fold was released – any employee that uses a tablet now could be a potential foldable device user. These might be truck drivers, warehouse employees or information workers. There may be an opportunity to save money and buy just one device for your employees – not two. Or there may be a business case to improve the user experience with a foldable device.
Samsung Should Seed the Foldable Developer Space
My advice to Samsung is to seed the development of Android apps that take advantage of foldable devices. Put a fund together that developers can access to improve the performance and experience of apps on foldable devices. Also, share knowledge between developers on best practices and shortcuts to make it easier to take advantage of this extra real estate. And understand that creating an app that works well on foldable devices is not a one-off activity. Microsoft originally gave money to app developers to create apps for Windows Mobile devices – but these apps were never updated and soon looked dated compared to their iOS and Android counterparts. So provide continued funding until the percentage of foldable devices reaches a tipping point and developers are incentivised to create apps for foldable devices because a significant proportion of their customers own foldable devices.