The Samsung Galaxy Fold fiasco is the best example yet of why Apple always waits to get into new markets

  • On Wednesday, some reviewers said their Samsung Galaxy Fold foldable smartphones had broken.
  • The issues show that Samsung took shortcuts to get the Galaxy Fold to market – and demonstrate a surprising lack of attention to detail.
  • It’s enough to make one appreciate Apple’s philosophy of being right, not first: It might very well be years before Apple releases its own foldable smartphone, but it’s hard to imagine it ever showing reviewers a device in such a bizarrely disappointing state.
  • Visit BusinessInsider.com for more stories.

Eight years after Steve Jobs’ death, it’s not uncommon to hear people bemoan that the Apple cofounder would have done things differently. I’ve become uncomfortable with this line of thinking – Jobs made mistakes, just like anybody else, and we’ll never really know what he thinks about the Apple of 2019.

However, I’m willing to make an exception for Samsung’s newest fiasco. At least four reviewers have complained that their $2,000 Samsung Galaxy Fold smartphone is breaking after just days of use.

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I have never felt more confident in saying that, no, Jobs would never have let this happen.

The problem at least partially hinges, if you’ll excuse the pun, on a thin strip of plastic that goes over the inside screen of the Galaxy Fold. According to the reviewers, this strip can separate from the phone’s screen and appear removable. And so at least some reviewers removed it.

It’s not immediately clear whether removing that strip contributed to problems with the Galaxy Fold; at least two of the reviewers who had problems with the Galaxy Fold kept the plastic on. But absent any official word from Samsung, it seems that removing the film plays at least some role in the likelihood of running into problems.

For what it’s worth, Business Insider didn’t remove the film from our Galaxy Fold review unit, and it’s just fine so far.

The fully unfolded Samsung Galaxy Fold.

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The fully unfolded Samsung Galaxy Fold.
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Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

It’s also not clear the degree to which Samsung has warned users not to pull off the film. Some reviewers said the phone came with a printed warning over the screen not to remove the film, while others said it was absent. That warning doesn’t appear to be on Business Insider’s review unit.

Samsung said it would “thoroughly inspect” the broken phones to determine the cause of the problem. It also described the thin film as a “protective layer” that’s “part of the display structure designed to protect the screen from unintended scratches” and said that removing it “may cause damage.”

That doesn’t directly answer what’s caused the review units to fail. But I’d argue that whether or not removing the film contributed to the problems, or whether or not there’s a warning, it’s absolutely bonkers that Samsung would ship a $2,000 device where users can easily remove the thin, plastic film but shouldn’t, when there’s even the slightest risk that doing so will permanently damage the unit.

And while the issue is clearly not affecting all Galaxy Fold units – or at least, not yet – I would think that even one such busted unit should be a huge catastrophe for any company trying to plant its flag in a new market.

For all of Apple’s own problems, and for all of its own iPhone scandals and embarrassments, it’s hard to imagine the company shipping a device to reviewers at all in such a state.

The Apple strategy

Apple gets knocked around, fairly and not, for being late to new markets and design trends, sometimes with devices that are less powerful than what its competitors offer. The defense has always been that Apple would rather get it right than rush something out to be the first.

That defense has never rung truer than amid this Samsung Galaxy Fold fiasco. It stinks out loud that Apple canceled its AirPower wireless-charging mat over a year after it was announced – it seems like a violation of that very same principle.

However, at least Apple didn’t ship the AirPower to reviewers, presenting it as a finished product. Instead, Apple accepted the short-term embarrassment of canning the whole project, rather than the long-term damage to its brand if it released a product that fell short of its lofty promises.

Apple may one day release a foldable phone, or it may not. That phone may be good and worthy, or it may not. But I do have a certain degree of confidence that if it does, the first version won’t have these kinds of problems or this kind of clear lack of attention to detail.

No shortcuts

Meanwhile, it looks as if Samsung took some shortcuts to be the first major manufacturer to bring a foldable smartphone to market.

It’s worth noting that the Galaxy Fold’s screen is plastic, most likely because Corning has said its industry-standard Gorilla Glass smartphone-screen material won’t be ready for foldable phones for a while yet.

In other words, Samsung seems to have knowingly opted for a less durable screen material so that it didn’t have to wait. And those screens now appear to be breaking for some users.

So remember this the next time someone criticizes Apple for being slow: Being first has its rewards, but it also carries an immense risk. And it just goes to show how attention to detail can pay dividends.