First Samsung grabbed some headlines in their big launch event last week in Barcelona by demonstrating their new Galaxy Fold device – looking like a slightly elongated if not ridiculously fat normal smartphone, which when manipulated in a particular way, is able to fold open like a book and reveal a double-width 2nd screen within.
Pretty neat, right? Well for a touch-screen rabid tech press feeling the slight boredom of only more and more iterative improvements… better processors, higher-resolution screens, longer battery life in addition to completely pointless and energy wasteful innovations (wireless charging anyone?) – something COMPLETELY NEW was like an icebath in the Sahara.
But it didn’t end there – just when you thought $1800 was the height of madness for a bulky phone with 2nd screen that’ll crack after its 2000th fold… and that you’d have to wait 3-4 years to see where this new era of foldability will lead to… Chinese giant Huawei struck.
And they struck HARD.
It was as though they took a play from Samsung’s medium-term strategy, but then leapfrogged a couple of years. Gone is the foolish strategy of including an ‘outside’ skinny screen and then a separate inner foldable one… what’s the point if you can’t use both at once? Instead, Huawei Mate X has just one screen, which functions like your existing phone does on one side, until you fold it out, and effectively double its area. So many clear wins here over Samsung’s design. Overall smaller & thinner phone with only 1 screen instead of 2. Huawei take the prize for design simplicity and engineering in this newly created category…
Before we get too excited here and all bow down to our new Chinese technical overlords, let’s take a breath and take stock and ask:
Yeah, but actually… how useful is this?
Personally, after the initial geek-wonder dies down a little, it might be clever to assess this with a clearer head, peering back from the future. That same clear head that can view the Blackberry keyboard, the sideways rolling ‘hoverboard’, and 3D television with the advantage of a few years hindsight and perspective.
Ignoring the obvious difficulties of doubling or tripling the fragility of the electronic device you most use frequently and shove in your bag, pocket or toilet without questioning its near indestructability… a folding phone, with scratchable surfaces on both sides, never mind that marvel of a hinge just waiting to snap, is a $2000 disaster just waiting to happen…
The CENTRAL concern as to whether this becomes tomorrow’s norm or tomorrow’s 1% anomoly has to ultimately do with its USEFULNESS. Seriously, I can’t think of a single application that my current 16:9 smartphone display isn’t handling perfectly well without the need for it to be doubled in surface area. You might argue video calling or maps or web-browsing will be better – but will they be TWICE as good – to justify the doubled fragility and doubled price?
I might be eating my words in 3 years, when we ALL have foldable smartphones, but I’m willing to bet for now, that this latest innovation that the industry is so desperate for… is actually the next 3D TV or hoverboard…
So here’s to dampening our enthusiasm slightly, and going out for walk and breath of fresh air instead. Spring is in the air, especially in Barcelona.