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Samsung betting on foldable phones

Samsung Electronics IT & Mobile Communications President & CEO Koh Dong-jin speaks during a press conference at a restaurant in San Francisco, Thursday (local time).
Samsung Electronics IT & Mobile Communications President & CEO Koh Dong-jin speaks during a press conference at a restaurant in San Francisco, Thursday (local time).

'At least 1 million foldable phones will be out next year,' says Samsung CEO

By Nam Hyun-woo

SAN FRANCISCO ― Samsung Electronics will roll out at least 1 million foldable phones in the first half of next year in a "limited number" of countries, the firm's smartphone chief said, adding the new form will give users a fresh experience.

"For a company of mass production like Samsung, at least 1 million units of a flagship model should be produced," Samsung Electronics IT & Mobile Communications President & CEO Koh Dong-jin said during a press conference on Thursday (local time).

"We have not fixed the timeframe, but can say we will release the foldable phone in the first half of next year. We typically release flagship models in nearly 120 countries around the world, but this time, the number of available markets and service providers will be limited."

Samsung Electronics drew keen attention from the tech world last week by unveiling a prototype of a phone in which the screen folds in half, during its Samsung Developer Conference (SDC) 2018 in San Francisco.

The company has been dropping hints over the new smartphone form and showcased that its foldable phone will have two screens ― a 4.58 inch cover display and a 7.3 inch main display that folds in half.

"We had two purposes in revealing them," Koh said. "The first is to show the world that our flexible display technology is close to commercialization and the next is to have our software partners to prepare apps suitable for the form and the screen ratio."

He stressed that the showcase was not aimed at unveiling the new phone's design, thus the prototype was covered with a case, and developers will be provided with the covered device so they can develop apps.

"So far, Samsung has been very active in providing prototypes of new smartphones to developers," Koh said. "It will be the start of Samsung's effort to create an optimized user experience for a new form factor with developers."

Samsung is not the first smartphone maker to unveil a foldable smartphone. Chinese startup Royole has unveiled what it is saying to be the world's first smartphone with a flexible screen.

Koh said, however, Samsung has not released its foldable phone because it believes it should not release the new device until it can give consumers a full set of new experiences, not just a temporary curiosity.

"When it comes to a foldable phone, display technology takes the most concern, followed by battery life, weight and ways to optimize user experience in folding and unfolding," he said. "If we wanted to release a product that would be forgotten by consumers easily, there would be Samsung foldable phones in the market already."

During SDC 2018, Samsung Electronics has introduced Bixby Developer Studio, a program that will allow developers to tie their apps with the company's artificial intelligence platform Bixby. Also at the show, it opened up a slew of its technologies so more partners can join the company's ecosystem.

It was interpreted as Samsung's bid to put more emphasis on software and compete with Google and Amazon.

Koh did not deny his firm is attempting to go toe to toe with the software giants, but emphasized it is collaborating with them at the same time.

"We release more than 500 million smartphones in the market a year and have a slew of other home appliances which are linked to Bixby," Koh said.

"But at the same time, we can't do it alone. Bixby links to Google and Amazon. If it were only a competition, they wouldn't cooperate with us. Since they understand Samsung's hardware legacy and the number of devices sold each year, they know working with Samsung will be a win-win for them too."

Nam Hyun-woo

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