Monday was not a good day for Samsung. In particular, for the company's mobile division, which had to delay the launch of one of the most exciting and unique phones we've seen in years, the Galaxy Fold.
The Fold has two different screens. On the outside, there's a 4.6-inch display, with a 7.3-inch display that folds down the middle on the inside of the phone. It's a phone that looks and feels very much like the future of the pocket computers we've come to rely on.
Another view: Not so fast! Why it's too early to give up on the Galaxy Fold
A little over a week before the April 26 launch, Samsung handed out review samples to a small group of publications (ZDNet's sister site CNET has one!). Reviewers immediately began praising the device for its bold design, while also lamenting that the Fold is very clearly a first generation device and there are some usability quirks that will need to be figured out.
None of this was a surprise. It is a bold design, and kudos to Samsung for trying to push the limit with a unique smartphone. But the release of the Fold, in some ways, is very much a beta test, for paying customers who have the cash to burn.
Then, a couple of days later, reports began to surface that the Fold's display was breaking. The Verge's Dieter Bohn posted a photo of the Fold's hinge and the damage it was doing to the display from inside the phone. CNBC's Todd Haselton's review unit's display simply quit working. First, on the left side, then on the right side. It was dead.
YouTuber Marques Brownlee removed what he thought was a screen protector from the Fold, causing the display to die. Bloomberg's Mark Gurman also peeled off the thin plastic layer from the display, causing his Fold to quit working.
Each of the reviewers claim Samsung never warned them not to remove the thin plastic film, which presumably lead to two of the four broken devices to fail. The other two devices, however, still had the protective film and exhibited similar issues.
Samsung issued a statement, reassuring users that the issues reviewers were experiencing would be looked at, and the company would make it clear to customers that the film needed to be left on the phone. At that point, the April 26 launch was still a go.
Then Monday morning, Samsung announced it was delaying the Fold's release. A new release date is expected to be announced "in the coming weeks" -- a timeframe that's extremely vague, and not reassuring that the issues Samsung will need to address can be fixed in a timely manner.
Reading through the official announcement, which you can find here, I get the impression that Samsung will have to make significant design changes to the Fold.
In particular: "Initial findings from the inspection of reported issues on the display showed that they could be associated with impact on the top and bottom exposed areas of the hinge. There was also an instance where substances found inside the device affected the display performance."
And: "We will take measures to strengthen the display protection."
Both statements sound like changes are required that can't be implemented in just a few weeks. This could be a lengthy delay.
I think the biggest question Samsung will have to answer internally, and hopefully externally, is: How did this happen? Did anyone at Samsung test the Fold for more than a few hours — of course they did, but it's hard to have confidence in the testing regimen at this point — and if so, how were these issues not discovered sooner?
After all, it took a handful of reviewers only a few days to encounter issues, and yet, we were four days away from retail availability when the Fold was delayed.
Here's my unsolicited advice, Samsung: Admit defeat -- just like Apple did with AirPower, and go back to the drawing board. Issue some sort of self-congratulatory explanation for taking a chance on new technology, apologize to customers, then move forward. There's nothing wrong with taking a risk, failing, and then admitting you failed. That's the kind of courage I want to see from a tech company.
But asking a customer to pay $2,000 for a phone that somehow made it out of testing labs, into production, into reviewers hands, and very nearly into users hands before the issue was discovered doesn't instill confidence.
If you preordered the Fold, I'm curious: Do you plan on keeping or canceling your order? Why?
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