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Samsung mobile boss expects foldables to account for more premium phone sales

More and more consumers are spending more times on their phones and are looking to buy well-made smartphones to use longer before upgrading, Samsung MX boss TM Roh says, a demand that foldables can deliver.
Written by Cho Mu-Hyun, Contributing Writer
Samsung MX President TM Roh.

Samsung MX President TM Roh.

Samsung

Samsung expects foldable smartphones to account for more and more of its premium smartphone sales going forward, the South Korean tech giant's mobile boss says.

In 2022, foldable smartphones accounted for 40% of the premium smartphones it sold in South Korea, Samsung Mobile Experience (MX) President TM Roh said in a press conference on the sidelines of Unpacked 2023 in Seoul.

Also: Why foldable phones are still so expensive, according to analysts

This year, with the launch of Galaxy Z Flip 5 and Galaxy Z Fold 5, foldables' portion in Samsung's premium smartphone sales is expected to expand even more, Roh said.

This is because, globally, more consumers are holding on to their existing phones longer before upgrading them, the Samsung President said. More consumers want well-made or premium products that they can use longer before upgrading. "We are seeing this pattern across the globe. More consumers are showing a preference for a 'complete' product that they can use for a long period of time," Roh said.

"We are also observing that customers are spending more time on their phones. For instance, if they use their phones for an hour per day, they wouldn't invest in purchasing a good device. And this was how it was in the past. But we are seeing this average increase to two, three, or more hours per day. This means customers' needs for a better device that can pack more data is increasing," the Samsung President said. 

Also: Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 vs Galaxy Z Fold 4: Should you upgrade?

Galaxy Z Flip 5 and Galaxy Z Fold 5 unveiled at Unpacked is the series' fifth iteration. They are the lightest and thinnest models in the Z series to date and come with a new hinge -- called Flex Hinge -- that allows the sides of the device to be folded shut completely without a gap.

On whether foldables were now "mainstream" in the mobile market, Roh said Samsung since it launched its first foldable in 2019 had faith that the category would become an important axis in the mobile space and that faith was increasingly becoming a "reality." "Our faith is based on the fact that the foldable form factor isn't something new that was introduced with foldable smartphones. Folding and unfolding is something we are familiar with that comes naturally."

"In terms of product completeness, considering the usability of third-party apps and the ecosystem around it, I would say we are moving forward in terms of foldables becoming mainstream. The popularity of foldables isn't limited to a certain niche or region. We are seeing global adoption and satisfaction."

One barrier to foldables may be their price -- Galaxy Z Flip 5 is priced at $999 and Galaxy Z Fold 5 is $1,799.

Also: Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 vs. Motorola Razr Plus: Comparing the best flip phones

"There are two big needs when it comes to foldables we are gauging from customers. First is the demand for a more complete product -- thinner, lighter, better resolution, and better performance. Second is the demand to make foldables more affordable and accessible."

According to Roh, realizing foldables takes a lot of technologies and more premium components and resources compared to bar-type phones -- what Samsung calls conventional smartphones with one flat screen.

However, the Samsung President was confident that in the long term, continued innovation in engineering and investment will drive the price down of foldables. "In the 70s smartwatches were introduced and they cost thousands of dollars. Today, smartwatches are very affordable. We believe any new innovation will follow this pattern."

The changed perspective on supply chains during and after the pandemic was also another factor. "In the past, when it comes to cost, it was 'just in time.' Now, there is an addition of 'just in case.' Cost is not the first priority and now there is a demand for supply stability. We want to do both."

Also: Samsung's Galaxy Z Fold 5 and Z Flip 5 have a new screen layering design, and it's a big deal

On the mobile market in general, the Samsung President said a turnaround was coming slower than expected. But for the premium segment, the shipment volume has stayed level with 2022 or showed slight growth, Roh said, and Galaxy S23 Series shipped more there its predecessor. Despite this climate, shipments of foldables have grown every year and Samsung is expected much the same for Galaxy Z Flip 5 and Galaxy Z Fold 5, the Samsung President said.

Meanwhile, Roh also commented on Samsung's partnership with Qualcomm and Google on XR. "We are not looking to be happy about launching a single product or creating an ecosystem for one company. Like smartphones, what we are doing is opening an XR ecosystem. We are expecting an announcement in the not-too-far-off future."

"Predictions on the XR market are polarized. But we do believe it will become a next growth engine much in the vein of smartphones," Roh added.

On innovation in the mobile industry in general, the Samsung President said: "We are at a stage where we are talking about mobile devices as information hubs, health hubs, and new functionality that can be applied are discussed. Once we find new usability, it will give momentum for the mobile market to grow."

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