Know When to Fold ’Em

Timothy W. Martin, reporting for The Wall Street Journal, “Samsung’s Galaxy Fold Smartphone Release Delayed”:

Samsung Electronics Co. is delaying the rollout of its Galaxy Fold smartphone until at least next month after some tech reviewers said their test devices had malfunctioned.

The Galaxy Fold, the industry’s first mainstream foldable-screen device, was slated to start selling in the U.S. on Friday, with a price tag of nearly $2,000. But Samsung, citing the problems reported by reviewers, said Monday it plans to announce a new release date for the phone in the coming weeks. […]

The launch delay came hours after the South Korean technology giant abruptly scrapped prerelease media events planned for Hong Kong on Tuesday and Shanghai on Wednesday. The company at the time didn’t specify why the two media briefings had been aborted.

“We are conducting a thorough inspection into the issues reported by some of the reviewers of early Galaxy Fold samples,” a Samsung spokeswoman said. “We will share the findings as soon as we have them.”

This is a sign of deep dysfunction within Samsung. Let’s think this whole thing through.

The idea of a foldable phone is fine. And as the industry leader in flexible OLED displays, it seems like an idea Samsung should be first to market with.

Subjectively, I feel strongly that the design of the Galaxy Fold isn’t good enough. Just look at this — it’s too thick and doesn’t even fold properly. Even if it worked properly — which it doesn’t — I don’t think this is a good design.

But somewhere along the line Samsung decided it was good enough to ship as a $2,000 device. To function at all, it requires a plastic screen protector that numerous reviewers assumed was meant to be peeled off. And they decided that was fine.

But the whole thing is so unreliable that the folding aspect completely breaks after a day or two of normal use. It’s not just that some minor aspect of it breaks — it’s the aspect that is the central reason behind the device in the first place. It’s a folding phone that breaks at the hinge.

It’s flatly ridiculous that they shipped these units to reviewers and intended to start selling them to customers this week. Either they knew about the problems and went ahead with shipping anyway or they didn’t know. I’m guessing they knew, in the sense that their quality control team flagged the issues and their concerns were ignored by a marketing team obsessed with being first to market with a folding phone, but if anything, it’d be worse if they weren’t even aware of the problem.

Samsung is the company, mind you, that in 2016 had a multi-billion recall for the flagship Note 7, because the batteries were catching fire.

The more I think about it the more obvious it seems that at some level of the company, they knew the Fold didn’t work. Engineering, production, quality control. They had to know. And either that message didn’t make its way up the chain, or it was ignored.

An obvious comparison is to Apple’s now-abandoned AirPower charging mat. That they announced it so prematurely turned out to be an embarrassing mistake for the company, but they never came close to shipping it, let alone sending out review units. At some point optimistic wishful thinking (“We’ll figure this out”) was replaced by cold hard reality (“This design isn’t going to work”).

The Galaxy Fold saga is not a funny story about a $2,000 gadget that didn’t work. OK, you got me, it’s not just a funny story about a $2,000 gadget that didn’t work. It’s a sign of deep dysfunction within Samsung, one of the biggest companies in the world.