(News Focus) Samsung faces serious competitor in fast growing foldable phone market
By Woo Jae-yeon
SEOUL, May 11 (Yonhap) -- For the past few years, Samsung Electronics has been the dominant player in the global foldable smartphone market, where early tech adopters have lugged around small tablet-sized phones in exchange for creative dual screen use.
Now, the South Korean tech giant is facing its most serious competitor yet -- Google.
Overnight, the U.S. company unveiled the much-anticipated Pixel Fold, its first foldable smartphone, during its annual developer conference. The phone is available for preorder now and will begin shipping next month, Google said.
One of the biggest appeals of the US$1,799 Pixel Fold is its thickness. It is slightly slimmer than Samsung's Galaxy Z Fold 4: 12.1 millimeters versus 15.8 mm.
Fitted with a 7.6-inch screen when open, the phone comes with the largest 4,821 mAh battery to date in a foldable, larger than Samsung's 4,400 mAh battery. So it is, naturally, slightly heavier than Samsung's phone: 283 grams versus 263 grams.
While Samsung is facing a tougher race in the foldable segment, more competition also means a bigger and more creative ecosystem and wider market adoption.
For its first foldable phone, Google optimized more than 50 of its own applications for Pixel Fold's larger display. It also promised to continue its efforts on that front, as part of efforts to encourage other app developers to do the same.
Samsung aims to raise the portion of foldable phones, which were first introduced in 2019, to half of its total smartphone sales by 2025, and to make them another pillar of the company alongside the Galaxy S flagship series and a key category in the premium segment.
According to market researcher Canalys, Samsung accounted for approximately 77 percent of foldable phone shipments worldwide last year.
On Sept. 4 last year, just a few days after the company unveiled its fourth-generation foldable phones, Samsung said a successful foldable phone needed two core elements -- a flexible and foldable display and a strong hinge for folding and unfolding operations.
"Foldable phones are not just about the novel form factor and technological advancement," Choi Won-joon, then head of the flagship product R&D team at Samsung's mobile experience division, said during a press briefing in Berlin on the sidelines of Europe's biggest tech show, IFA 2022.
"I believe we should give users unique and valuable experiences that they can't get from any other smartphone," he said.
"Making a more compact and lightweight hinge while not compromising its durability was a huge challenge," he said, adding that Samsung developers were able to eventually come up with a completely new hinge system, called a spiral hinge, after some 20 failed attempts in the span of nearly a year.
Still, Samsung's Fold 4 has a design flaw -- it has a small gap near the hinge when folded shut.
Google's hinge system, on the contrary, allows the two screen halves to fold completely, leaving no small gap when closed. Google also said it has the most durable hinge, made of stainless steel, which has been tested up to 200,000 opens and closes.
According to the latest report released in March by the International Data Corp. (IDC), foldable phone shipments are expected to reach 21.4 million units this year, up more than 50 percent from a year ago, as consumers start to embrace the new form factor. By 2027, the figure could reach 48.1 million, it estimated, driven by "a healthy demand for this growing form factor."
"A 10 percent decline in average selling price helped the market grow 75.5 percent in 2022, as foldable devices became more affordable in numerous markets," it said, adding, "With new vendors and models joining the race this year, we expect the foldable market to be the one bright spot in 2023 with 50.5 percent growth, while the total smartphone market contracts 1.1 percent."
The South Korean tech giant is widely expected to advance the launch date for its new foldable phones with an improved hinge system by a few weeks to consolidate its leading position in the market. Usually, the company holds its biannual Galaxy Unpack event in February and August.
Samsung said Thursday the release date for the Galaxy Z Fold 5 has yet to be decided.
4 Chinese, 4 Russian military planes enter S. Korea's air defense zone without notice: S. Korean military
(LEAD) S. Korea wins seat on U.N. Security Council for 2024-25
Yoon gov't unveils National Security Strategy highlighting N.K. threat
S. Korea expresses 'stern' protest to China, Russia over air defense zone incursion
(LEAD) 4 Chinese, 4 Russian military planes enter S. Korea's air defense zone without notice: S. Korean military