Galaxy Fold, a new paradigm? Let’s not jump to conclusions

I, like the rest of the tech community, have been eagerly anticipating the launch of the Galaxy Fold. Samsung’s $2000 folding powerhouse that is purportedly a game changer for the smartphone industry.

The butterfly metaphor is appropriate, I guess. Source: Samsung Press

This excitement is justified, the folding arrangement of the phone is the first update to the ‘rectangle with a slab of glass’ design ethos we’ve seen become hegemonic with smartphone manufacturers for the past decade.

In his review, Jon Rettinger compares the Galaxy Fold to the Galaxy Note. detailing how the Note challenged the design language of the time with its ginormous size, ‘It was so different from the mobile status quo that people didn’t know what to think of it. It seemed silly, it seemed ridiculous. But, retrospectively, I think we’ll look back on the Fold in the same way as the Note. How could we imagine our lives without a folding screen?’.

Rettinger attributes the paradigm shift entirely to the physicality of the device. Whilst design is clearly a large part of smartphone heritage, it’s not everything. This discussion prompts the consideration, what represents a paradigm shift in smartphones?

I believe a smartphone paradigm shift occurs when the use-cases attributed to a new line of phones expand, to such an exponential degree, that it immediately renders previous iterations universally obsolete.

Take the iPhone, the multi-touch touchscreen and simplified UI allowed for a more streamlined experience; Jobs on stage touting the fluidity of the touch screen experience, it was something millions of users could see themselves eventually adopting. It was nothing like previous phones and it was useful for many more things than one expected of a phone prior.

In the same vein, whilst the the Galaxy Note wasn’t ostensibly different design-wise from the iPhone, its S Pen stylus and large size allowed for more precise, creative tasks to be completed on the device, completely transforming the use case.

As for the Fold, I can’t necessarily attribute a particular, revolutionary, use-case that completely justifies the premise. Samsung, too, seems unclear on what all this technology will be used for. The only statement Samsung make is in relation to the phone’s intersectional position as a smartphone-tablet hybrid, ‘We engineered Galaxy Fold to work like a phone — and transform into a tablet’. They’ve equipped it with 12GB of memory to ensure fluid multitasking, a feature that is prominent in the device’s UI. This makes it an extremely versatile device. But, there isn’t a clear, overt, use case.

Astutely, Samsung have left users to decide what this phone stands for. However, by not proposing any predetermined presumptions, they also leave open the risk that consumers will not find a specific use case that sets the Fold apart from its predecessors.

Game changer? Only time will tell. Source: Samsung Press

It’s easy to get lost in the hype and draw assumptions on the changing paradigm of the smartphone based on physical attributes and design-language changes. However, to judge a smartphone’s revolutionary potential simply by its design is somewhat naive.

Whilst the design of the Fold is truly revolutionary and completely different to what we have seen in any other mainstream device prior, I will be saving judgment until we’ve seen whether this physical shift also represents a shift in usability. Until then, it’s simply too early to judge whether the device will become something we can’t live without.

So for those eager to purchase the Galaxy Fold, I’ll leave you with this. As Joshua Topolsky determined in his original iPad review in 2010: The buyer of an iPad is someone who sees not just the present, but the potential of a product like the iPad… and believes in and is excited about that potential.

Now, replace ‘iPad’ with ‘Fold’: If you see the folding screen providing potential advantages in how you can utilise a smartphone, then go ahead, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed!




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Alex Firth

Alex Firth

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