Samsung unveils foldable Galaxy Z phone, challenging Apple design and tech

Galaxy Z users will get free access to Alphabet's YouTube Premium.

Samsung unveils foldable Galaxy Z phone, challenging Apple design and tech
ung Electronics, unveils the Z Flip foldable smartphone during Samsung Galaxy Unpacked 2020 in San Francisco, California.- Reuters

Samsung Electronics on Tuesday unveiled a square-shaped foldable smartphone, its second try at a novel technology that the Korean cell phone maker hopes will set it apart from rivals Apple Inc and Huawei.

The foldable-glass Galaxy Z Flip, which looks like a large makeup compact folded up and expands to look like most smartphones, features foldable glass and will come in purple, gold and black, executives said in San Francisco.

Last year's Galaxy Fold, a larger unit that folds like a book and was largely panned in its debut, had a plastic screen.

The Z Flip phone, starting at $1,380 will be available starting Friday.

Galaxy Z users will get free access to Alphabet's YouTube Premium.

Samsung also on Tuesday unveiled three new variants of its Galaxy S smartphone range that boast powerful cameras and fast 5G wireless connectivity.

Samsung lost its No.1 smartphone position to Apple in the December quarter, according to IDC as cheaper iPhone 11 pricing helped the U.S. firm enjoy its best growth performance since 2015.

Globally it also faces stiff competition from Huawei Technologies Co Ltd, which was a close third in market share in the fourth quarter, although the Chinese company is caught in a U.S.-China battle over security and technology, especially in 5G.

"There has been no better time for Samsung to increase its market share given Huawei's current woes and Apple yet to release a 5G iPhone," said Paolo Pescatore, a London-based analyst at PP Foresight.

It moved rear camera lenses of the new Galaxy S20 devices, which compete head-to-head with iPhones, into a squarish black panel, bringing cameras closer to the design of the iPhone 11 series.

While the South Korean firm hopes the new foldable handset will help burnish its innovation credentials, consumers will be keen to see whether Samsung has overcome technological challenges and screen glitches that forced it to delay the Galaxy Fold last year.

"Foldables are expensive and very hard to manufacture. It will take time for foldables to become mass-market products," said Neil Mawston, an analyst at Strategy Analytics, expecting a mass-market takeoff by 2022 or 2023.

"For now, foldables are a super-premium product that can drive profits or a 'halo effect' for the Samsung brand."

Limited foldable display productivity and capacity will constrain Samsung's ability to boost the foldable phone production sharply, industry officials and analysts say.

Sales are seen at 5 million units at maximum this year, or less than 2% of Samsung's total smartphone shipments in 2019, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters.

While China's coronavirus outbreak has started straining the global supply chain and disrupting smartphone production, the South Korean firm is seen the least affected among major producers, as its main manufacturing base is in Vietnam, analysts said.

The Tuesday event also marked first public debut of Samsung's new mobile chief Roh Tae-moon, who previously oversaw the company's development of S range models and outsourcing of cheap phones to Chinese contract manufacturers.