Justin Denison, senior vice president of mobile product marketing for Samsung Electronics Co., speaks during the Samsung Unpacked launch event in San Francisco, California, U.S. on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019. Samsung debuted its most extensive new lineup of smartphones, taking on Apple Inc. amid a slowing market with new low-end and premium models, 3-D cameras, an in-screen fingerprint scanner and faster 5G connectivity. Image Credit: Bloomberg

Highlights

  • Korean tech giant to release folding smart phone in April, it was announced on Wednesday
  • The Galaxy Fold will come with specially adapted applications from Facebook Inc and Alphabet Inc designed for the new device.
  • The Galaxy Fold will cost $1,980
  • It will go on sale on April 26, Samsung officials said at an event in San Francisco 
  • The device will have a 4.6-inch display while folded and a 7.3-inch display when unfolded

San Francisco: Seeking to rev up demand in the slumping smartphone market, Samsung on Wednesday unveiled a folding handset, becoming the first major manufacturer to offer the feature.

The South Korean giant also appeared to get the jump on rivals by announcing the first device for fifth-generation, or 5G wireless networks, one of four versions of its flagship smartphone, while stepping up its efforts in artificial intelligence and wearables.

The Galaxy Fold, unveiled at a San Francisco event, serves as a smartphone with a 4.6-inch display and unfolds to become a tablet of 7.3 inches.

Samsung's Galaxy Fold Image Credit: Samsung

“We are giving you a device that doesn’t just define a new category, it defies category,” said Samsung’s Justin Denison at the event.

The Fold will be available April 26 starting at $1,980, the company said.

The launch comes with the smartphone market in its worst-ever decline with consumers keeping devices longer and waiting for new innovations.

Samsung made the announcement on the home turf of rival Apple, with the two giants battling for the premium segment of the market.

Denison said the Fold is “a one of a kind luxury device with immersive visuals” and offers “a truly next generation experience” that enables multitasking on its large screen.

The tech giant said the Fold can open up to three active apps simultaneously.

Image Credit: AP

Samsung also announced its new Galaxy S10 handset, upgrading its current line of flagship handsets including one 5G device, getting a jump on rivals expected to make similar announcements at next week’s Mobile World Congress.

“We are pushing beyond the limits of today’s technology to inspire a new generation of smartphones and recharge growth for our industry,” said DJ Koh, head of mobile communications at Samsung Electronics.

“For those who say everything possible has already been done, I say open your mind and get ready for the dawn of a new mobile era. Buckle your seatbelt, the future is about to begin.”

Unfolding future

Samsung's new Galaxy Fold smart phone which features the world's first 7.3-inch Infinity Flex Display that works with the next-generation 5G networks is seen in this image released in San Francisco, California, U.S. February 20, 2019. Image Credit: Reuters

He said the Galaxy Fold was designed “for those that want to experience what a premium foldable device can do, beyond the limitations of a traditional smartphone.”

Analyst Bob O’Donnell of Technalysis Research said on Twitter: “As expected, it’s not cheap, but the #GalaxyFold will still be THE device for gadget lovers.”

The S10 handsets, coming in four versions including the 5G model, will offer improved color display with active matrix organic light emitting (AMOLED) technology, improved battery life and upgraded cameras.

They will feature Ai-enhanced software and wireless charging capabilities — allowing users to charge itself and a second device simultaneously.

No price or release date was announced for the S10 5G version. Other options include the S10e starting at $749, and the largest version, S10 Plus at $999, which will be available March 8.

AI and wearables

Samsung also announced that its digital assistant Bixby will be available in new languages — British English, German, Italian and Spanish — in addition to the already available US English, Korean and Mandarin Chinese.

The move helps Samsung step up efforts in the rapidly growing field of voice-based artificial intelligence dominated by Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant.

“We are strongly committed to our AI business, and continuously expanding Bixby’s intelligence capabilities to provide more users with the best possible AI experience,” said Eui-Suk Chung, Samsung’s head of software and AI.

Elina Vives, head of marketing, computing, smartwatch, audio and virtual reality (VR) for Samsung Electronics Co., speaks during the Samsung Unpacked launch event in San Francisco, California, U.S. on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019. Image Credit: AP

The company also introduced a new lineup of wearable tech devices including its Galaxy Watch Active smartwatch, Galaxy Fit trackers and its cord-free earbuds, called Galaxy Buds.

The smartwatch will supports apps designed to monitor blood pressure and stress indicators and is designed to detect a variety of workouts including running, biking and rowing.

“Consumers are increasingly putting their overall wellbeing at the center of their lifestyle decisions, and they’re looking for wearables that make it easier to get active and stay balanced every day,” said Koh.

The Samsung Fold is aimed at popularizing new kinds of displays in a future where devices can be more easily folded or rolled up.

Earlier this year at the Consumer Electronics Show, Chinese startup Royole showed off what it claimed is the first foldable smartphone, which can fit into a pocket but unfold into a full-sized tablet computer, which is available in China and the US for some $1,300.

Samsung at the same time is opening three US retail stores to promote its Galaxy line of smartphones, stepping up competition on Apple’s home turf.

Galaxy Fold packs a price

Samsung Electronics Co Ltd on Wednesday said it will release a pricey folding smart phone in April, with specially adapted applications from Facebook Inc and Alphabet Inc designed for the new device.

The Galaxy Fold will cost $1,980 and go on sale on April 26, Samsung officials said at an event in San Francisco.

The device will have a 4.6-inch display while folded and a 7.3-inch display when unfolded. Samsung said it worked with Facebook, Google and Microsoft Corp to create special versions of their popular apps to fit the new display.

The new models are being unveiled in San Francisco, commemorating the 10th anniversary of Samsung's first smartphone.

Smartphones made in recent years haven't made dramatic improvements from earlier models. The lull in innovation has given consumers little incentive to dump their current devices and buy something new.

What we know so far:

The Samsung Galaxy S10 is actually four separate phones: the S10e (the "e" stands for "essential," ) the S10, the S10+, and the S10 5G.

Retail release

The first three go on sale in March, and the S10+ is the flagship of the trio.

Having a family of three devices has become a trend, and in many ways the S10e, S10, and S10+ are Samsung's answers to Apple's iPhone XR, XS, and XS Max respectively.

Despite the similar naming convention (Galaxy "S ten" versus iPhone "ten S" ), there are some significant differences between how the two flagships compete for consumers' wallets.

We'll break down some of the most significant ways Samsung and Apple are differentiating their competing phones.

Design and Photography

Great pictures are essential for any top-end phone. Samsung has equipped the S10+ with three rear-facing cameras"-one for close-ups, one for standard shots, and an ultra-wide one for expansive scenes. The iPhone has two lenses, however, which on paper seems to put it at a disadvantage.

The truth is that lenses alone don't determine the quality of the picture, and Apple has always preferred a "quality before quantity" approach to features, but having three lenses to play with instead of two should win over creatives for the sheer versatility.

The S10+ has a massive 6.4-inch screen, but the iPhone XS Max's is slightly bigger at 6.5 inches. However, the industry standard "notch" atop the iPhone's display is not something Samsung adopted. Instead, the S10+ has an unusual "hole punch" design for its front-facing cameras.

This gives the display an asymmetrical profile, but it also increases the usable space.

Fingerprint reader underneath the screen

One of the reasons Apple includes a larger notch in its design is because it houses advanced facial-recognition features for keeping its devices secure; the FaceID technology requires multiple sensors to function, and currently that means it needs to eat into more of the display.

Samsung hasn't ignored security, though" — it's baked a fingerprint reader underneath the screen itself.

It uses ultrasound to detect the gaps between the ridges on a user's finger, which Samsung said makes it more secure than a traditional sensor.

The trade-off is clear: you're happy using fingerprints if it means you get more screen real estate, or you're content to forgo a few extra pixels in order to make your face your sole method of authentication.

Features and Performance

The iPhone XS Max and Galaxy S10+ can both be charged wirelessly, but Samsung gave its phone a bonus perk: it can charge other products wirelessly, too. Theoretically you could charge your colleague's iPhone by placing it on top of your S10+, but Samsung said it sees the feature mostly being used to charge accessories like headphones and smartwatches.

Samsung also takes the crown for offering the most storage for digital media. The S10+ comes with up to a terabyte of internal capacity, which is double the 512GB maximum offered by the iPhone XS Max. But the S10+ also supports microSD cards up to 512GB in capacity as well, meaning it's possible to have triple the space compared to Apple's flagship. (In fact, that 1.5TB total is higher than all but the most expensive of Apple's MacBook Pro laptops.)

Until the phone gets released for review it's impossible to say how well the S10+ will perform compared to the iPhone. Apple's device uses its own A12 Bionic chip, which has six processing cores, while Samsung uses an eight-core processor. But historically Apple's custom-designed silicon, its integration with the iOS software it powers, together with the rest of the hardware in the phone, has given it the edge over competitors whose numbers, on paper, appear greater. What's safe to say is that both phones should handle anything realistically thrown at them.

Price and Verdict

These phones are among the most expensive flagships either has made within their categories, and on paper they're undeniably the pinnacle of each company's design prowess. Buying either is to buy one of the best phones on the planet.

As for the customer on the fence over whether to defect from one manufacturer to another, it'll be a trade-off between display notch versus display hole punch, advanced facial recognition versus fingerprint reader, and tight hardware-software integration versus expandability. And iOS versus Android, of course"-the ecosystem of apps and subscription services are playing an increasing part in keeping customers loyal.

Foldable display from Microsoft

Microsoft, the software giant, has also filed a patent showing a device mechanism that allows a single display to be folded shut by a hinge from the inside of the device, web portal OnMSFT.com reported on Tuesday.

The electronic device comprises a body and flexible display stack both of which are involved in a movable connection via fastening areas and components.

According to the report, Microsoft does not explain any upcoming device in the patent, but mentions that the folding display could be used in hand-held devices, laptops, wearable devices and other consumer electronics.

A previously leaked patent has already indicated that Microsoft could be developing an upcoming foldable Surface device.

However, the new Microsoft patent is just a concept at present and could or could not enter the real-device world, the report noted.

Investors' reaction

As Samsung unveils the next generation of its smartphones Wednesday, investors will no doubt be looking for a better showing from the mobile giant after a difficult 2018.

Based on the hot start from Samsung shares, they already seem to be counting on South Korea's biggest stock to succeed. It has surged 21 percent so far in 2019, recovering almost all of its 24 percent plunge from last year.

The gains have propelled the benchmark Kospi Index to a more than 9 percent advance this year, one of the best jumps in the region amid a wider rally thanks to growing optimism of a U.S.-China trade deal. On Wednesday, the South Korean benchmark was one of the biggest gainers among national gauges in Asia.

Foreign investors are the biggest buyers of Samsung stock this year, already gobbling up a net 2.76 trillion won ($2.46 billion) of shares, the most of any company in the Kospi, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Domestic institutions and individuals, meanwhile, are net sellers.

Given Samsung's size — the stock accounts for about a fifth of the Korean benchmark — the buying has been a key contributor to total foreign inflows of more than $4.1 billion for the market this year.

That's the most among Asian countries after China.

The tech behemoth is not the only stock off to a quick start in Korea. Rival SK Hynix Inc. has actually climbed even more, with a 25 percent advance this year as a plan to boost dividends 50 percent offset disappointing earnings in January. g.

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