Samsung's Galaxy Z Fold 2 is the successor to the company's first foldable smartphone, the Galaxy Fold launched last year.
Fold 2 shed the prominent notch on the main screen of its predecessor, has thinner bezels, and a larger cover display -- now 6.2-inches from the previous 4.6-inches -- that is symmetrically shaped with the back of the phone when unfolded. It uses ultrathin glass as the cover for the 7.6-inch main screen rather than the polyimide film it used for the Fold. It also has a stronger cam hinge that allows the phone to stay open. It's hard to deny that in terms of design, the Fold 2 is a step up.
"Having to be beautiful is a given for designers when it comes to product design," Tae-joong Kim, vice president and head of next generation product design group at Samsung Mobile, told ZDNet. Kim and his group oversee the design of the Fold series and the Galaxy Z Flip -- which are now both part of the larger Z series.
"No designer is ever satisfied with their result 100%. I feel the first Fold was the best result from us at the time to satisfy consumer needs. For the Fold 2, the thing we focused on the most in design was harmony."
"We didn't want either the cover display, main display, hinge, or the body to be visually obtrusive to the overall look. We wanted them to look visually harmonious together. We put in a lot of effort to make sure that we didn't give the impression that we were focusing more on one of those elements than the others," he said.
Kim compared the process to clothes that people wear.
"You look and feel different to other people depending on the clothes you wear and how you wear them. Each garment is important, but they must also all be harmonious together. We have individual projects that focused on the hinge, the body, and the display screens. We used key words like bold, sleek, and uniqueness in these processes. And when we brought them together all these components' focus was harmony."
Samsung's other important focus when it came to Fold 2's design was usability as productivity was an important value for the series.
"A designer's role today has been expanded. For feature phones, external styling accounted for over 90% of our job. But displays got larger and software evolved [with the smartphone], and the external design became more about how to add value and increase efficiency for users to access the information inside," Kim said.
"So for the Fold 2, from the start, we thought deeply about how usability can meld together with the design.
"We thought about the size, thickness, weight, and grip and how they all meld together."
The Fold 2 has three usability modes -- as a phone, as a larger-screened tablet, and the mode in between which Samsung calls flex mode. The design group wanted all three modes to work on their own while remaining visually pleasing.
"When it comes to flex mode, it can be said that we are offering this usability to consumers for the first time. We are keenly listening to VOC [voice of customer] and are working to hard to reflect their demands in our foldable smartphones," he said.
"We have a lot of accumulated data for the Galaxy S and Galaxy Note series. We have a more relatively comfortable understanding of consumer needs when it comes to those series. But foldable smartphones are a new category for us.
"Whenever we launch a new foldable product, VOC becomes more diverse and specific. So we are constantly thinking about how to resolve the issues they raise and give greater satisfaction back."
Consumers wanted an even better main screen and a larger cover display than the Fold for its successor, the VP said.
"So we delivered this to the best of our ability, and so far consumer feedback has been great overall."
"Deciding on the right screen size is a difficult process. Generally speaking, larger screen means greater consumer satisfaction. But we also have to think about portability. And screen sizes affect the overall size of the device. We made a lot of prototypes that tried to balance the cover display with people's grip size to finalise the Fold 2."
In-folding displays -- which the display is folded inward, shown in the Galaxy Z Flip and Galaxy Z Fold 2 -- will continue to be offered by Samsung as they are the most basic of form factors, Kim said. Samsung will focus on delivering more complete versions of them in the coming years, the VP said.
"We have accumulated know-how in foldable technology for a long time now. Galaxy Fold was our first commercial foldable device, but we have research data stretching back years before that," the VP said.
"We are already thinking about how to appeal to consumers, a year from now and three years from now, based on [that knowledge]."
Samsung introduced the hinge customisation option for the Galaxy Z Fold 2 for the first time. Kim said this was just one of many features it has in store, and it will deliver more fun things for consumers in the coming years.
"When it comes to foldable smartphones, internally, we have segmented the form factor from A to Z. But the important question is whether consumers really need a particular product and whether it would lead to purchases," Kim said.
"I think in the future there will also be very different and specific needs from consumers that require a particular form factors. We are preparing a lot for such needs when the market is ripe and we have a diverse pool of technologies that will allow use to react to those," he said.
Technology develops sequentially and sometimes everything of a cutting-edge technology can't be expressed with design at that time, he said.
"Design is, I think, what comes between consumers and technology. The Galaxy Fold 2 offers everything that came before it as well as new values for consumers. When the market is ripe, there will be more new values we can provide for them, in the future."