How a second screen separates Samsung from the fold

The folding display on the inside of the Galaxy Phone rightly gets all the attention, but the phone would be far less compelling without its narrow cover screen.

Galaxy Fold flirts with being a true all-in-one At Samsung's Unpacked 2019, ZDNet's Jason Cipriani talks with Suzanne De Silva, Director of Product Marketing and Strategy, about Samsung Fold's DEX support and much more.

Samsung has never been shy about teasing the opportunities for curved displays -- from its curved televisions and monitors to the first Galaxy Note Edge. But as it became clearer that a folding smartphone was in the offing, Samsung Mobile CEO DJ Koh set no expectation that such a product would be rushed to market. Rather, the device that would come to market as the Galaxy Fold would have to include thoughtful application of the design.

Samsung appears to have lived up to that promise. For example, it could have easily foregone the narrow front display intended for less immersive tasks such as fielding a phone call and just shipped a folding phone that had an unassuming outer shell. However, it took the risk of including a second Android-addressable display capable of much more than, say, simple notification icons used by the Cosmo Communicator. While that display is a sideshow to the Fold's internal display, it serves a critical role in improving the utility of the smartphone even as it competes for attention in some ways with the device's star.

The Fold's front display is a nod to the reality that phones must not only fit in one's hand, but be usable in one's hand. Unlike clamshell laptops that must be pried open to operate, phones must often reply to in-the-moment scenarios that would otherwise introduce many a fumbled Fold to the hard reality of hard floor collisions. That said, as I noted in my column discussing some of the paradoxes of the form factor, it creates a cognitive trigger point of when it is worth it to interrupt workflow and open the device.

The narrowness of the display also helps compensate for the increased thickness of the Fold. For years, Samsung and its competitors touted each shaved millimeter of girth as a significant advance. But Samsung should have an easier time diverting focus from that former obsession as thinness has reached the intersection of diminishing returns and engineering roadblock.

Even as Samsung continues to deliver smartwatches and other products that eschew Android, the Fold shows how important its partnership with Google is. As Samsung noted when it showed off the Fold prototype last November, it has had to work closely with its growing smartphone competitor to implement app continuity between outer and inner display. Of course, that implementation comes at a price, which is that other Samsung competitors will also be able to take advantage of the Android groundwork Google will do to enable such functionality. Huawei, TCL, LG and others are all rumored to be working on folding smartphones. Speaking of competition, though, the Fold's front display serves another advantage for Samsung: further leverage of its display integration to make competing with it that much more difficult.

Google's assistance was likely less important in implementing the three-app multitasking that serves as the Fold's other primary software differentiator. Samsung. among others, introduced the two-app version of that feature long before Google officially did. Alas, as is so often the case with Android display optimization, many popular apps, such as Facebook's Instagram and Messenger, do not support the feature. Google resorted to ChromeOS multitasking to support multiple Android apps on its Pixel Slate.

The biggest downside of the cover screen for those who would join the Fold is that it surely contributes to the device's near-$2,000 entry price point. Here, the Fold must pass the buck to the more glamorous display that lies within. Despite the cover display's critical supporting role, the Fold's key proposition is being able to tote a tablet-sized display in your pocket. For those who feel that doesn't justify its price, Samsung and others will happily sell highly capable alternatives that dispense with display handoffs.

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