Samsung launched its early 2019 flagship devices ahead of Mobile World Congress, and its new range of devices provides some highly anticipated innovations: the company's first 5G smartphone, the Galaxy S10 5G, together with its first smartphone with a foldable display, the Galaxy Fold. The 4G version of the Galaxy Fold will cost consumers $1,980 at a minimum, and the Galaxy S10 5G will also likely cost in excess of $1,200, though precise pricing for that handset has not yet been released.
Samsung's early launch will generate a great deal of press coverage, but the details show that the headline devices will have a very limited impact on the handset market in 2019. This is most easily seen in the price point of the Galaxy Fold; no handset that costs $2,000 will sell in any large numbers, and this is a huge problem for Samsung's desire to be the leader for foldable technology. Samsung has great technical expertise, but it has consistently struggled to turn its technology into compelling user experiences. The lack of compelling use cases shown in the Galaxy Fold demo raises these fears again, while the Fold will also not have anywhere near the number of users that will entice third-party developers to create interesting experiences for such a unique device.
The history of device development is littered with products with innovative technology that consumers dismissed as gimmicks because the use cases were unclear or not immediately accessible. Ovum does believe that foldable displays are here to stay, and that they have the potential to be a transformative technology for the smartphone experience, but manufacturers need to take a stronger hand in developing and showcasing these experiences. Otherwise, many consumers will be turned off foldable displays long before the technology reaches a mass market price point.
More importantly for Samsung itself, building customer loyalty around experiences is more reliable than having to constantly be at the bleeding edge of every innovation and fad in the smartphone market. Building the identity of a product and brand around experiences also allows consumers to build stronger emotional relationships which is a big boost to retention.
MWC19: What to Expect, ENS002-000064 (February 2019)
2019 Trends to Watch: 5G Devices and Apps, CES004-000045 (September 2018)
Daniel Gleeson, Senior Analyst, Consumer Technology