Samsung’s Unpacked: Redefining the Future – The Responsibility of Shaping a Market

July 27, 2023 / Carolina Milanesi

Since Monday, I’ve been in South Korea to meet with Samsung’s executives and attend Samsung Unpacked. What has become the summer appointment with foldable saw the arrival of the 5th generation of the Galaxy Z Fold and the Galaxy Z Flip. These two devices hit the market as competition from brands such as Motorola, made by Google, OnePlus, Oppo, and Nothing intensifies in the foldable space.

The Z Fold 5 remains Samsung’s top model aimed mostly at professional users and the enterprise market. Overall many will see this year’s design as iterative. Yet, the design changes that Samsung implemented, such as the new “flex hinge” that allows the Z Fold 5 to fold completely closed without a gap around the hinge, Qualcomm Snapdragon Gen 2 chipset, a brighter internal display, a thinner S Pen stylus and a weight that comes in 10g lighter all make for an improved experience. The Z Fold 5 will start at $1,800 when it hits stores on Aug. 11.

The Z Flip 5, Samsung’s biggest opportunity to drive foldable solidly into the mass market, saw more of a redesign with the front screen, which goes from 1.9 inches to 3.4 inches. The new larger front screen allows the Flip to better compete with the Motorola Razr Plus and its 3.6-inch front display. The main difference between the two devices is more philosophical than technical. Samsung has limited the kind of applications and experiences that can run on the Z Flip’s front screen compared to what Motorola allows users to do. The decision will help consumers avoid running apps that do not properly scale to the unusual screen size. Like its biggest brother, the new Z Flip 5 runs on Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon Gen 2 processor and sports a unique hinge that also closes completely flat. The Z Flip 5 will start at the same $999 as its predecessor.

At the event, Samsung also launched new Galaxy Watches and the Tab S8.

My time in Korea started with a meeting with TM Roh, President and Head of Mobile eXperience Business at Samsung Electronics, to discuss the opportunity in foldables and the current market dynamic.

In my view, it is essential to understand the context of the strategy that Samsung has embarked on with foldable. For many years, as the Samsung brand and the Galaxy brand were growing, the company was criticized for putting technology for technology’s sake as a higher priority than the overall device experience and the consumers’ needs.

This is no longer the case today. As we see Chinese brands bring more unique foldable designs to market, we need to understand better the different dynamics that drive a brand like Samsung compared to these.

First is the ability to manufacture devices at scale with a high yield. Samsung is a global brand that operates on much larger volumes than most of these brands do.

Second, the importance that brand reputation has within Samsung’s culture. This is not my first time in Korea where I’ve been able to experience the power of the brand, but also the highest sense of pride that everybody working at Samsung has for every product they bring to market. This sense of pride means that when there are quality issues with a product like what we saw with the Note Seven and the first generation of the Z Fold, Samsung takes full responsibility for the issue and puts in place practices that will minimize the risk of these issues reoccurring. We are now at a time when delivering what many will characterize as an iterative design is the best choice for consumers. As the market expands from early adopters to mainstream, there is a need for a higher degree of confidence in the investment being made in these new. Samsung is delivering two products that are solid from a design perspective as well as the value that they bring to the buyer. This is not the time to experiment with design to be different.

Lastly, considering Samsung’s success in the enterprise market with the Fold line, reliability is even more of a purchase driver than for consumers.

To some extent, Samsung has the advantage of being first to market and defining the market; it is on other brands to challenge and disrupt that leadership. That said, it is important to understand that the foldable market is not just about hardware. It is about software and application optimization. And this is where Samsung has put a lot of effort: creating that end-to-end experience, sometimes nudging along the whole Android software development to be able to support that tailored experience that delivers the higher return on investment buyers are looking for.

Market competition is great for consumers, and TM Roh made it very clear in his remarks that he welcomes competition because that’s the best thing for consumers. He also very emphatically said that he is not willing to cut corners at customers’ expense.

Samsung continues to believe there will be a sizable opportunity for foldable in the smartphone market. I tend to share that belief, especially as a proportion of the high end of the market. Listening to TM Roh, it was interesting how many times he pointed to serving consumers and delivering what is best for them as the best way for Samsung to remain ahead of the game in the smartphone market and overall as a consumer electronic brand. At the core of the belief is the idea that folding and unfolding is a natural action from a book to a wallet. We are used to unfolding an object to get more out of it. When it comes to foldable, that extra value doesn’t come purely from the hardware. It comes from the silicon, the hardware, the operating system, and the ecosystem of applications and services that run on it. And this is where I believe Samsung will continue to stay ahead of its Android competitors, at least in the US and Europe. TM Roh proudly said that Samsung takes its role as an ecosystem enabler to deliver value to the consumer seriously. As he continues to look at the opportunity for foldable, he is also looking at the opportunity and the responsibility of driving the market forward more sustainably.

A big part of hosting unpacked in Korea this week was for the international press and analyst community to experience the fabric of the culture influencing the products and the brand.

K-pop, which stands for Korean pop music, has gained immense popularity worldwide, with many Gen Zers being enthusiastic fans of K-pop groups and artists. K-dramas, or Korean television dramas, have also captured the attention of this generation with their engaging storylines and relatable characters. Furthermore, Korean cuisine, known for its diverse flavors and healthy ingredients, has become a favorite among Gen Zers. Korean dishes like kimchi, bibimbap, bulgogi, and Korean BBQ have found their way into the mainstream, reflecting the growing influence of Korean culture on a global scale. Combining these cultural elements has resulted in a strong and vibrant fandom surrounding K-pop and K-dramas, contributing to the appreciation of Korean food and promoting a deeper understanding of Korean culture among Gen Zers worldwide. Interestingly, as K-pop, Korean food, and K-drama are all growing in influence, younger consumers from Europe to the US are intrigued and captivated by Korean culture. I believe that Samsung has a bigger opportunity in the future if they embrace their culture more rather than trying to fit into the American or European culture.

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