Let's check in with Samsung before next week's Unpacked event

·5 min read

It has become something of a tradition: Samsung announces an Unpacked and all or most of the big products get teased out in leaks in the weeks leading up to event. Sometimes the leaks come before the event announcement, sometimes after, but any hope of keeping its biggest news under wraps appears to have largely gone out the windows.

Samsung has embraced the tradition, to some extent. It has become common practice for the company to -- at the very least -- tease the hell out of the products ahead of their official launch. This time, it’s foldables. The company has not only said as much -- it has included a handy image of a half-folded Galaxy Z Flip 4 in the invite for the big event on the 10th.

As has also become tradition, Samsung Mobile head TM Roh offered up a kind of pre-event toast that covers some of the broader industry trends that have lead up to this moment. Specifically this time out, it’s a state of the union on foldables.I will say, there are some real head-turning figures in here.

“Last year, we saw almost 10 million foldable smartphones shipped worldwide. That’s an industry increase of more than 300% from 2020, and I predict this fast-paced growth will continue,” Roh explains.

The company declared its foldables a second flagship device (or, perhaps, second and third, depending on how you slice it) the moment it killed the beloved Galaxy Note line for good. It’s safe to say the company jumped the gun there, but credit where it’s due: 10 million is an impressive haul for new form factors selling at flagship prices -- and above. Durability concerns are largely in the rearview, and the company utterly dominates foldable sales, with estimates of around 80% of the market.

What makes the numbers more remarkable is that they fly in the face of larger trends. Phone sales have had quarter after quarter of bad news. The bright spots in the numbers are generally budget and mid-range phones. Meanwhile, Samsung’s over here seeing tremendous growth in a category priced $1,000 and up. Obviously, the 300% figure is partially due to things starting from a fairly insubstantial number, but the trends are impressive nonetheless. They’re also indicative of users with disposable incoming searching for something novel in a staid market.

However you might feel about foldables in general, you can’t really deny that they are -- at the very least -- something different.

Samsung’s not been immune from the global handset downturn. In May, reports surfaced that the company was cutting production by 30%. Earlier today, Reuters noted that workers in Vietnam were taking a big hit from slowing sales. Of course, all of this needs to be seen through the lens of Samsung retaining its place at the top of global smartphone sales for quite some time. That is to say, things are slowing, but the company is doing quite well relative to other manufacturers.

Roh also used the opportunity to confirm something we’d strongly suspected all along: Most people prefer the Flip form factor to the Fold -- 70% of buyers prefer the clamshell, turns out. Samsung may be the only ones genuinely surprised by that fact. I noted in my original Flip review that it was the first time I could really picture myself using a foldable as a daily driver. Samsung too often gets caught in the trap of making big, unwieldly devices, but the Flip is far more pocketable and more affordable.

That’s no doubt why it made it onto the event invite. Going forward, expect to see the two foldables on more even footing in Samsung press materials -- with the Fold perhaps even taking something of a back seat.

This time out, the Flip 4 and Fold 4 are the headliners. Multiple generations in, Samsung has largely settled on design and form factor. Things have been reinforced to the point that durability is no longer primary concern.

Reports center around some subtle tweaks to things like the Fold’s hinge, but we’ve otherwise settled into a cycle wherein these devices are receiving an update cadence similar to devices like the Galaxy S. That means things like the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 Plus processor, coupled with things like a larger battery on the Flip.

The foldables are the headliners, but the Galaxy Watch 5 may be the one most worth paying attention to. Its predecessor found Samsung re-embracing Wear OS through a partnership with Google. But while Samsung is posting good smartwatch sales, it’s about to face a challenger a bit closer to home. Google’s Pixel Watch is a big hail mary from a company that has thus far struggled to live up to its wearable promise. But the company’s acquisition of Fitbit could spell some real competition for the Galaxy line when the new smartwatch arrives this fall.

Among other things, improved battery life and a potential new “Pro” model have been hinted at in leaks.

Samsung has also quietly been making good -- and even great -- earbuds. They lack the flash and the marketing push of others in the space, but the Galaxy line has always been a solid choice. Again, the company’s suddenly got more competition here from Google’s new -- and pretty good -- Pixel Buds. Galaxy Buds 2 Pro are reportedly on the way with improved battery. Hard to say how the company might look to otherwise stand out in that extremely crowded field.

So, Samsung’s got a massive headstart in foldables. Sometimes being first means stumbling out the gate, but if you’re persistent, it will start to pay off. Questions exists around where the ceiling is for adoption on the form factor, of course, but Samsung is the best positioned to brush up against it at the moment. Apple still has the company beat in smartwatch marketshare by a mile, and while a partnership with Google is good news on the app front, it needs to keep an eye on the company to hold onto its share of the Android compatible smartwatch market. As for earbuds, the company is combining a good product with a massive smartphone marketshare for an ecosystem play that will move a lot of product.

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