NEW YORK: Samsung Electronics Co.
sees an opening in its stalled smartphone war with Apple Inc.
That’s Samsung’s opinion‘s
mobile business chief Roh Tae-moon, chief architect of the company’s flip-screen phones. The newest versions, Galaxy Z Fold 4 and Galaxy Z Flip 4, were unveiled on Wednesday.
The novelty devices do something iPhones can’t: fold in half or expand to the size of a tablet.
While sales volumes remain relatively small, Mr. Roh said foldable phones are attracting three times as many branded consumers as Samsung.‘s
mainstream flagship phones Galaxy S. Newcomers accounted for a double-digit percentage of Samsung‘s
folding shipments last year, he said. And he hopes the latest releases will woo even more.
“We consider this to be a fairly significant percentage and a positive sign,” Roh said. “These are non-Samsung Galaxy device users switching to another Galaxy device.”
Samsung, the world’s largest smartphone maker, had not previously disclosed such a wide variety of internal cross-brand figures for its foldable devices.
Roh didn’t mention the iPhone or Apple by name when discussing the growing popularity of Samsung’s foldable phones. But Samsung and Apple are the only two companies competing for wealthy buyers willing to shell out big bucks for the latest phone.
The Galaxy Z Flip 4 costs $1,000 and the Galaxy Z Fold 4 retails for $1,800, while Apple’s most expensive model, the iPhone 13 Pro, retails for around $1,100. The most expensive tier of smartphones has represented the only focus of growth for an industry that is slowing this year amid high inflation and broader economic concerns.
Samsung shipped about 8 million foldable devices last year, a category it dominates over a handful of mostly lower-cost Chinese rivals, according to Counterpoint Research, which tracks smartphone shipments. This year, Samsung is estimated to ship more than 13 million foldable phones.
Siphoning off a few million iPhone users and convincing more would-be partisans to stay would pay off for Samsung given the hefty profits generated by foldable phones. Mr. Roh’s enthusiasm also shows how even incremental gains can make a significant difference.
It wasn’t always like this. The Apple-Samsung rivalry defined the early years of the smartphone industry, when the two battled it out in court, in television commercials and over technology victories. Buyers often jumped brands. But now, about 93% of Apple’s mobile users stay with Apple, while Samsung retains nearly 90% of its customers, rates that haven’t changed much in years, said Michael R. Levin, co-founder of Consumer Intelligence Research. Partners. LLC.
Apple has filed several patents for foldable screen technology, though it has given no public indication of any plans to release such a device. In an earnings call last month, Apple CEO Tim Cook said the Cupertino, California-based company saw a record number of consumers switch to an iPhone in its latest quarter, touting percentage growth of double digits year after year.
Apple did not respond to a request for comment.
Samsung’s foldable offerings are promising enough to make you wonder if Apple might one day release its own version, said Bryan Ma, vice president of device research at International Data Corp.
To meaningfully take on Apple, Samsung must improve on its historical pain points in user experience, ecosystem design and software, said Hugh Dubberly, Apple’s former chief creative officer and a former member of Samsung’s global design advisory board. He sees little evidence that Samsung’s foldable devices with their current features will cause a large number of iPhone users to switch.
“The fact is that hardware is a commodity,” Dubberly said.
Samsung, in a major internal revamp late last year, merged its mobile and consumer electronics divisions into one, with a long-term goal of improving its device ecosystem that encompasses phones, washing machines and TVs.
Mr. Roh, 53, joined Samsung in 1997 and worked his way up through the mobile division’s research and development team. He helped guide the 2019 launch of the Galaxy Fold, the industry’s first mainstream foldable device. Skepticism about durability and price has dogged previous foldable phone launches.
Now, after more than three years, Samsung leads a fast-growing foldable category, according to Counterpoint. Total shipments are expected to reach 26 million units next year, up from 9 million in 2021, he said.
Compared to Samsung’s other flagship offerings, the lower-priced Galaxy Z Flip has done better in attracting outsiders, Roh said, while the Galaxy Z Fold has won deeper loyalties. Retention rates of the foldable devices are up to 10% higher than those of its flagship Galaxy S devices, he added.
Mr. Roh, for his personal smartphone, said he rotates between the company’s flagship devices as they are released. He is using the Galaxy S22 Ultra, which hit stores in February. Before that, he had been a Galaxy Z Fold 3.
“I have to be actively using our products to really feel and understand the feedback from our consumers,” Mr. Roh said. Plan to use the Galaxy Z Fold 4 next.
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