Observations from Samsung’s Unpacked 2020

I spent most of yesterday morning at the Unpacked 2020 event in SF at the beautiful Palace of Fine Arts. While Samsung had masks and Purel everywhere, being in a theater environment with well over 500 people sitting should-to-shoulder was a bit disconcerting given the Corona Virus issues the world is dealing with these days.

I can only imagine how frightening it might be in Barcelona next week at MWC, where thousands of people will rub shoulders at that event, should it still take place. Samsung officials told me that they still plan to be there. Yet, as of today, over 60 companies, including Sony, Amazon, Intel, and Cisco, have pulled out of the show, and I expect at least another 30-40 to announce they will not attend by the end of this weekend.

But at Unpacked, the mood was upbeat, and if anybody was concerned about catching this virus, it was not that evident. Some did wear masks, but for the rest, it was a typical day at a Samsung event.

The first observation from this event was the fact that Samsung built up the Galaxy Z Flip phone and seemed to infer that while their first foldable was a “winner,” the Galaxy Z Flip is the one foldable they are banking on to be their flagship folding product. I got to play with one for quite some time after the event, and it is sleek, thin, and exceptionally well designed. I could not see a crease in the fold at all, although they clearly state a crease is something that would be normal over time.

Samsung says it can be folded over 200,000 times without any breakage or problems, and I am sure the testers will check out that claim as soon as they get their hands on it.

But I picked up something else from Samsung officials and many who were at the event that confirms my feeling about foldable. Samsung’s first foldable gave users a double-wide screen that needs two hands to work with when folded out. While it delivers more significant screen real estate, it is not that easy to work with opened.

On the other hand, the flip form factor opens to a 6.7-inch screen, yet it is so small it fits easily into any pocket. The compactness, yet full-size screen, is what I think consumers will want in a foldable instead of the larger model that should come under the moniker of a phablet.

I have also played with the Motorola Razor that just came out, and it too is a flip phone that is well designed and will be a very competitive product to the Galaxy Z Flip announced Tuesday.

While I think the flip phone design will dominate the foldable market eventually, one has to use any foldable for a time to understand what a game-changer a foldable phone is. In the case of the Flip phones, they are small when folded but big when opened. In the case of one’s that fold outward, they increase screen size dramatically, so the viewing space is excellent, especially for videos.

The second observation is that Samsung is now fully invested in 5G smartphones. Last fall, it was thought they might introduce at least one 4G smartphone this year that could be sold into areas where 5G will not be ready in 2020. Instead, they announced the S20 5G, the S 20 5G+, and the S20 Ultra5g smartphones. Last year’s 4G models that are now discounted will be pushed to markets where 5 G will not be available in 2020-2021.

Samsung, making this year’s Galaxy line all 5G, will put a lot of pressure on Apple. The speculation on Apple’s 5G iPhone is that it will be a high-end model with a 5G designation in its name. All of the other iPhones that would be under this model’s new name will reportedly still be 4G.

5G will not be widely available in 2020, but people buying smartphones in 2020 will keep them for a minimum of two years, and in this time frame, the 5G build-out will be massive in the US and most of the developed world.

If Apple only has a high-end model with 5G, it could lose a broad audience who could buy iPhones at the end of this year. Many will have their eyes on 5G Phones, knowing full well that over the years they own any smartphone purchased in 2020, 5G will become an important feature.

Samsung, making their entire Galaxy 2020 line 5G, could pay off big for them should Apple not make most of their 2020 iPhones 5G ready.

The third observation is that Samsung has become the 900-pound Gorilla in the Android space. Yes, other Android smartphones are doing well, but when Samsung speaks, all the world listens. I have been to Unpacked events in the past, but this year’s event in SF made it clear to me that Samsung has emerged as the real power in Android smartphones. Using their partnerships with Google, Spotify, and others, they have solidified their leadership in the Android market as the premier Android smartphone maker.

Even with the Corona Virus scare, people from Asia, Europe, and South America came to this event to be at the launch of something new from Samsung. Even After Samsung showed the Flip Z at the Oscars on Sunday, the excitement level at Unpacked was as high as ever.

Apple is still the most powerful force in smartphones, and their leadership in innovation and design is hard to beat, especially in the way they have created a robust ecosystem of hardware, software, and services. Samsung is the only other company that I view as being equal to Apple in hardware, and with Google’s support, it is close to matching them in software.

Apple may not admit it, but Samsung has emerged as a most worthy competitor to Apple. Their innovations in foldable smartphones are bound to force Apple to innovate faster in foldable themselves. And their rise to this level of competition will keep all of the smartphone industry moving forward positively.

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Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

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