This had to be one of the most innovative releases in the world of smartphones for years. She did not, however, pass the first test of the grip by the specialized press. Two copies of Samsung's collapsible smartphone, the Galaxy Fold, have had serious display problems after two days of seemingly normal use. In the process, Samsung has announced a postponement of the marketing of the model, and recovered copies of loan distributed to Western journalists.
This sudden withdrawal confirmed the concerns: the two blackouts found by US media reporters The Verge and CNBC are not a small alert, but a very serious problem. Samsung distributed the Fold drop-wise to the US press. Two copies broken in 48 hours represent a failure rate that is difficult to tolerate.
However, the Fold is a key product for Samsung, which hopes in the coming years big commercial benefits with this innovation. The question arises: how could a brand as expert as Samsung have missed the mark at this point? How could she entrust journalists with so fragile smartphones when they were supposed to cost 2020 euros?
An inappropriate protocol?
This failure, of an unprecedented scale, can be compared to the problem of flammable batteries that touched in 2016 Note 7, a Samsung smartphone. But in a mobile, the battery is a classic element, a technology mastered for years, even if the progress is constant. Nobody doubted that Samsung ultimately manages to overcome battery problems on a flagship product as is a smartphone.
The malfunctions encountered by the folding smartphone Galaxy Fold are of another order. They concern its folding hinge and its flexible screen. These two innovative technologies condition the very existence of foldable smartphones. And all eyes are on their solidity, as we explained during the last edition of the Mobile World Congress, the summit dedicated to smartphones that took place in Barcelona in March.
This failure can be explained in different ways, but the most likely assumption is that before it was released, the Fold was not sufficiently tested. The exercise was undoubtedly particularly delicate, even if Samsung has reputable laboratories where to evaluate the robustness of electronic devices.
"Samsung has necessarily built a new test protocol adapted to Fold. They have immense know-how in this area ", Judge Bertrand Czaicki, a training engineer who oversees the design of Crosscall smartphones, French manufacturer of off-road mobile phones.
The Fold has necessarily undergone a long series of laboratory tests, derived from the protocol that the smartphones of the Galaxy S family undergo, detailed in these photos published by the Korean brand. We see a robot drop a smartphone in a metal tray, another simulate a human who sits on the screen of a mobile, a final shake the smartphone in all directions, like a square washing machine.
In a video released in late March, the Korean brand showed the Fold on a test bench that folded and unfolded its screen thousands of times. But since the Fold is radically new, since it incorporates a complex hinge of more than a hundred small parts, it is likely that Samsung has less perspective and experience in the art of building a representative test protocol for a such foldable model.
Privileged target of industrial espionage
Gold, "Technical evaluations must imperatively be supplemented by use tests" explains Bertrand Czaicki. If a robot can reproduce the same test gesture thousands of times identically under perfectly similar conditions, it simulates very imperfectly the assaults of everyday life. Its stereotypical screen opening movements do not duplicate the countless ways to open an observable smartphone in the hands of thousands of users.
For all smartphone models, these assessments must be supplemented by field tests, which will be all the better if they are conducted by a large number of testers, in varied situations and representative of the diversity of current uses.
And that may be the other difficulty faced by Samsung. More than any other smartphone, the Fold was a favorite target for professionals in industrial espionage. Before its announcement in late 2018, if a photo of Fold had circulated, it would have given Samsung's competitors two valuable information: the size of its screen and its format. Foldable smartphones are in their infancy, their forms differ enormously from one manufacturer to another. Worse still, if she had given Fold copies to employees for use in their daily lives, they could have lost him. This is what happened to Apple with the prototype of iPhone 4 found in a bar in 2010, and immediately broadcast by an American media even before its announcement.
To avoid these risks, it is possible that Samsung has limited the extent of its use tests, possibly prohibiting the Fold to leave the most protected parts of its premises. Because if it is possible to make up a smartphone of new generation to make it go unnoticed in public, as did Apple in the past, it is absolutely impossible to make up a smartphone that bends in two. Its radically new format naturally attracts attention.
Under the pressure of Huawei
Other ways to explain the false start of Fold exist. One of two things: either Samsung was unaware that the Fold was fragile, or Samsung knew. But the brand is currently under pressure from the Chinese manufacturer Huawei. Samsung has been trying for over seven years to solve the sustainability equation for foldable smartphones. Tired of waiting, her management might have turned a deaf ear to the warnings of her engineers. The brand may also have accelerated the exit of the Fold despite the danger of high failure, hoping to correct the problems in the next version of the product.
In any case, this episode is very damaging to the reputation of Samsung. It will also worry a small minority of consumers who, like many journalists, put a lot of hope in this smartphone of a new kind that makes the synthesis between mobile and tablet. Today, the question is no longer to know "when" the Fold will come out, but "if" the Fold will come out. Only the future will tell if its problems of solidity can be corrected.