Samsung's Foldable Phone Will Be First—But At What Cost?

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Samsung has been working on a foldable phone believed to be called the Galaxy X for years. And now that a launch is within its sights, the company might try to rush it to store shelves to beat any other company eyeing foldable handsets.
Credit: SamsungCredit: Samsung
Speaking to reporters at Samsung's Unpacked event last year, Samsung mobile chief DJ Koh said that when it comes to foldable phones, his company "didn't want to lose the world's-first title." He added that Samsung is working on "focusing on developing innovations that will be genuinely accepted and liked by consumers," according to ZDNet, which discussed the foldable phone with him at the show.

While Koh didn't dig into his comments too extensively, they center on rumors that competitors, including Huawei, LG, and perhaps even Apple, are all working on foldable phones. China-based Huawei has been aggressively pursuing the technology and according to a report in the Nikkei last month, wants to be the first vendor to deliver a foldable phone.

MORE: Samsung Galaxy X Rumors - Foldable Phone Release Fate, Specs and More

But is being first really that important?

"It depends if the folding phones are merely a novelty or if Samsung can build unique use cases around the form factor," said Avi Greengart, research directior for platforms and devices at GlobalData. "Ironically, if it’s just different to be different, getting to market first is critical - you always want to be first to market with a hot fad."

That Nikkei report said that Huawei would develop between 20,000 and 30,000 foldable smartphone units and make them available to "early adopters" that would want to be the first in the world with foldable phones. Nikkei's sources said Huawei was specifically focused on beating Samsung to the market.

For a while, Samsung was the only major phone vendor believed to be working on foldable phones. And each year for the last few years, we've heard reports of the company delaying the launch to get the phone right. Now, though, Samsung is feeling some pressure. And by the sound of Koh's remarks, the company wants to be first at all costs.

Being first, of course, is something not every company benefits from. Apple, for instance, has long held that being first is not nearly as important as delivering the best innovations when the time is right. In some cases this has paid off, as Apple was late to facial recognition but wound up offering the best solution with its Face ID in the iPhone X. In other cases, such as with big-screen phones, Apple was simply late to the game.

"If folding phones become a real category, being first to market is good, but whoever implements the the idea best will win over the long term," said Greengart.

Samsung is expected to unveil the foldable Galaxy X in early 2019.