on September 20th, 2021

The fanfare of major events like Apple Event’s or Samsung Direct has become synonymous with big tech unveilings of new flagship devices for major manufacturers. EIT Journalist, Adriaan Roets, shares his thoughts on one of the latest topical releases.

New products that seem odd upon unveiling often become more sensical later. AirTags, upon announcement in 2021, seemed daft to me because surely, its function was somewhat overly unnecessary and could remain tech-free.

We’ve survived so long without it, and it seemed like a product that is almost like a tech intrusion on daily life. I didn’t think I needed location data from a peer-to-peer network at any point for items a tag has been attached to. 

I live in Johannesburg, South Africa, and a walk through the City of Gold’s botanical gardens gave AirTags an unannounced meaning. I saw a dog walker taking dogs for a stroll, each wearing a tag on their collar.

Suddenly AirTags didn’t seem so pointless when you consider it could trace beloved family pets that give owners constant and direct data of their whereabouts.

Man holding Apple Airtag
Photo by Đức Trịnh on Unsplash

In South Africa, Pet location would often involve surgical tags that could only be scanned when a missing pet is located. To me, AirTags suddenly had an air of responsible pet ownership attached to it.

In the same vein, foldable screens have required a lot of introspection to find their use on why it is needed. To find a lot of value in it, much like my own turnaround of AirTags, it’s been a process. 

The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 5G and Galaxy Z Flip3 5G were announced and released in 2021 and they are enjoying aggressive marketing.

On one side its price point is a complete turnoff for consumers, and upon writing this, it is one of the most expensive mobile phone devices you can buy, bar of course special cross-over projects or one-of-a-kind devices.

On the other side, Samsung is perfecting the once unthinkable - folding glass screens. But what’s the use of the emerging era of devices, and what is the competition doing?

Why opt for foldable phones?

Man holding Samsung foldable phone
Photo by Onur Binay on Unsplash

The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 is a unique device.

Folded it is a normal (albeit slimmer and much thicker) bar phone. Unfolded it is a square tablet-like device offering a bigger display surface than a normal phone, but smaller than a tablet.

It is almost being marketed as an in-between device with the best of smartphones and the entertainment value of a tablet. In the case of the Galaxy Z Fold3 Samsung says its theatre of viewing experiences is a real selling point. 

The device offers a 7.6-inch Infinity Flex Display -which is uninterrupted thanks to an under-display camera lens.

The unbroken screen means there is better view quality for users, and it’s also 29% brighter than its predecessor the Fold2. But what Samsung is relying on is UX unlike anything found on the market today.

According to the tech giant, what they call the enhanced Flex mode, will allow users to do more on the phone. When folded at 95 degrees, such as when using the device in a video call, the bottom screen can be used to make notes. The same applies for gaming and other uses, and there’s a dual-screen functionality attached to the experience.

With the device there is Apps cater made for it, and Samsung says they have expanded partnerships with the likes of Google and Microsoft to create the kind of Apps that will ensure a Z-series experience is like no other. Microsoft Outlook for instance in dual-pane mode enables users to read email while they preview others, much like the desktop email experience.

As the Z-series grows Samsung will release more adaptive technology that optimizes the use between Z-series screens depending on how it is folded.

Samsung knows marketing

Let’s be clear, the third generation of Samsung Fold devices has made many improvements, and Samsung knows how to market their products. In fact, in some way, considering the price point of ZFlip and ZFold devices, they are selling well enough.

With the first major release of a Fold device Samsung said they sold between 400,000 and 500,000 devices according to a report on Tech Radar. This was after a retracted figure that estimated a million devices had found a home. 

It’s no wonder then that with its latest Fold Samsung is taking new avenues of marketing, which includes a collaboration with viral YouTuber Todrick Hall. 

Todrick Hall partnered with Samsung to market their foldable phones
Panda815, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Hall, renowned for his parody videos of pop culture reworked his 2019 social media hit track Nails, Hair, Hips, Heels in 2021 for Samsung with lyrics that sell the screen functionality of the smart devices.

Flip, Fold, Snap, Clack also panders to a new audience, namely Hall’s gay following. The video features trans icon and former RuPaul’s Drag Race cast member Laganga Estranga that with Hall celebrates the device for being unique and its user experiences that are not like other phones out there.

What Samsung is doing is not focusing on the business aspects of the phones, but rather the fun side.

The problem they might face is the fact that young people are looking for more for less.

A study titled The Influence of Word of Mouth on Purchasing Decisions for Samsung Smartphones found that Word of Mouth affects purchasing decisions by 45.80% in the respondent group used for the study while the 54.20% was influenced by other variables.

The study agrees that marketing communication is still how companies inform and persuade consumers, but that word of mouth marketing had a strong influence on young consumers, especially when it came to tech purchases.

Positive information on Samsung products has shown that it helped peers persuade each other to purchase these devices.

Another study however shows that while Samsung has historically been able to produce quality devices with a big audience but they have competition.

OPPO, a newer Chinese manufacturer of smartphones is quickly gaining hold in the youth market.

Like Samsung, they produce unique phone UX, but instead of creating foldable phones for instance the company already released their white paper on 6G technology, focusing on the future of smart devices not that concerned with form factor just yet.

Oppo phone and packaging box
Photo by Anh Nhat on Unsplash

In 2021, the OPPO Research Institute officially released 6G AI-Cube Intelligent Networking, offering the telecommunications industry's first look at how AI will empower network architecture and change the landscape of communication networks.

Instead of bold new devices, it seems as though OPPO is aiming to sell through stronger and better networks.

The paper Brand Switching Behavior from Samsung to OPPO among Millennials found that there’s a shift toward OPPO because their latest smartphones are considerably cheaper than Samsung, but they do not skimp on product features, quality, design, or packaging.

According to the study lifestyle and price had a major influence among millennials, and the group tends to switch brands when there are cheaper but products of equal quality available.

Since the foldable market is still limited, with only a few manufacturers producing these devices (at a high price point), it is unlikely that younger people will take the bait, regardless of how catchy a Todrick Hall song might be.

Unfolded screens can make you anxious

A study on privacy in public spaces in Korea concluded that people with access to phones that can fold to a 30-degree angle feel less anxious about people close by having access to personal information.

The study User Experience Research on Utilization of the Folding Screen on a Foldable Phone for Privacy Protection looked at the UX experience of foldable Samsung phones. 

The study found that completely unfolded, users felt like public gaze could lead to unwanted transfers of personal information. 

Considering that foldable phones are unique, and there is curiosity surrounding them, it is easy to assume that they will draw attention, intentional or not, and that leaves users more susceptible to other people who might look at their screens at inopportune times.

Subjects in the study mentioned that the more they were able to fold the phone, the more they felt they had control over the direct gaze on them.

They could fold the screen to cover messages from some sides or the top due to the functionality of Samsung Fold, which has an active screen depending on the folded configuration. At a folded angle there were positive effects on users’ psychology since they felt protected from the surrounding gaze. Similarly, users felt anxiety when the phone was unfolded and the same gaze could peer at a bigger unfolded screen.

The research concluded that for those with a foldable device the optimal fold was the aforementioned 30 degrees.

Users added however that when the device was folded too much on-screen icons felt like optical illusions (due to screen lift).

Has any of this sold the Z Flip or Z Fold to me as a casual tech consumer? No, it hasn’t. Could I eventually come around to these devices and see them as valuable user experiences? It seems unlikely for now. The big takeaway is the fact that it offers an isolated UX experience that is so removed from day-to-day needs that for now, these phones can go fold off somewhere else.

References

Samsung Mobile Press, 2021. The Next Chapter in Mobile Innovation. [online] Available at: https://www.samsungmobilepress.com/pressreleases/the-next-chapter-in-mobile-innovation:-unfold-your-world-with-galaxy-z-fold3-5g-and-galaxy-z-flip3-5g

Jang, S. (2021). User Experience Research on Utilization of the Folding Screen on a Foldable Phone for Privacy Protection. Archives of Design Research, 34(2), 121-131.

Moy, Rafles & Nyoko, Antonio & Fanggidae, Ronald. (2021). INFLUENCE OF WORD OF MOUTH ON SAMSUNG SMARTPHONE PURCHASE DECISIONS the Influence of Word of Mouth on Purchasing Decisions for Samsung Smartphones. 2. 161-173.

Dickson, Glen. (2020). Foldable Market Expands with Samsung, Microsoft Offerings. Information Display. 36. 5-6. 10.1002/msid.1160.

Harjadi, Dikdik & Nurfatimah, Sifa. (2021). BRAND SWITCHING BEHAVIOR FROM SAMSUNG TO OPPO AMONG MILLENNIALS. 20. 41-46. Oppo, 2021. OPPO unveils 6g White Paper. [online] Available at: https://www.oppo.com/en/newsroom/press/oppo-unveils-6g-white-paper/

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