If there is one thing to learn from the launch of the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Galaxy Z Flip 3 last week, it has to be the sheer confidence Samsung has in its new foldable phones. They don’t look like concept devices anymore, and that is visible in the early reviews of both Fold 3 and Flip 3. Cheaper prices and the fact that the phones are more durable show that Samsung is ready to turn foldables into mainstream devices, appealing to more diverse consumers. But Samsung’s aggression in the foldable phone segment — now in the third generation- could put pressure on other phone manufacturers to revamp their existing premium phone strategy.
Many argue that because Samsung has infinite resources and can use them to develop foldable phones and use its market position to sell these expensive devices at steep prices. It may be true to some extent — Samsung also develops and manufactures delicate foldable screens used in its highest-priced smartphones. But what many do not acknowledge is that Samsung had to forgo its successful Note line in favor of foldable phones, and that itself is a bold move to take. It simply means its Z foldable line is ready to replace the Note series, a once-popular smartphone range that squarely targeted professional users.
The point is Samsung understands that its flagship phone lineup is cluttered, and it’s not clear which phone is aimed at whom. For years, Samsung supported the idea that it will release phones at different price points to appeal to a larger section of the audience. While that strategy worked wonderfully for Samsung, now it’s getting difficult to tell the difference between two phones belonging to the same or different series.
Take the case of the Galaxy S21 lineup where Samsung offers three phones — Galaxy S21, Galaxy S21 Plus, and Galaxy S21 Ultra. But if you look carefully at the S21 and S21 Plus, there’s very little to differentiate between the two phones, other than the sizes of the screen and battery capacity. So why do consumers pay more for the Galaxy S21 Plus? Lately, the Galaxy Note series has also suffered from the same problem: lack of differentiation. The top-end Ultra model in the Galaxy S and Note series are nearly identical, and now that the S Pen is supported with the Galaxy S21 Ultra, do you actually need the Galaxy Note?
But it’s not a problem Samsung alone has been facing for years. In fact, every phone company is going through the same identity crisis across their lineup, but it becomes a bit problematic in the premium segment when the cost of a phone is way higher and aspirational consumers take the route of monthly EMIs to fund the device.
Phone companies release too many new models, and that’s not good for consumers. Whether these decisions are made to mint more profit, or the end goal is to have a leg up on the competition, the truth is buying phones has become confusing.
For instance, buying a OnePlus phone used to be a lot simpler but now things have become complicated. It started as a brand for enthusiasts but lately, it looks like any other mainstream smartphone vendor. It’s becoming a bit confusing to understand why the ‘T’ series still exists when the phones bring minor incremental upgrades over the non-OnePlus T range. If the OnePlus 9T comes to the market later this year, it won’t have anything jaw-dropping except for minor improvements and an increase in price. This has become a pretty standard policy, and while it’s not hurting the brand, consumers do get confused by the phones that bring no real innovation to the table. Why need the OnePlus 9T Pro in less than six months when the OnePlus 9 Pro 5G is a complete phone?
Apple, too, is not far from this maddening race and questions have been raised over the existence of a recent phone model that shouldn’t exist in the first place. When the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro were released in 2019, there were substantial differences between the two phone models. But the launch of the iPhone 12 Pro last year was critically viewed by some for being close to the standard iPhone 12. Many called the iPhone 12 Pro an unwanted middle child in the iPhone lineup, and frankly, Apple failed to come up with a solid reason to justify where the phone stands in its iPhone 12 lineup.
It’s still not clear what impact the launch of the new Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Galaxy Z Flip 3 will have on the larger premium smartphone market, but Samsung’s foldables strategy and its decision to sideline the Note series may help other players to streamline their high-end smartphone portfolio and focus on devices that are relevant in the current marketplace. In fact, Samsung is the core beneficiary from this change as it will be able to lead the market for foldables which is closer to the mainstream. At the same time, Samsung manages to start the conversation around smartphone stagnation which has plateaued and there is a need to come up with new ideas to break out of the competition.