Don't count on theto be Samsung's innovation darling. Leave that to the company's first foldable phone, which Samsung is widely expected to show off in all its working glory. Rumored to be called the , the first foldable phone from the largest global phone brand has the potential to kick off a tidal wave of renewed interest in phones at a time when sales are .
The Galaxy S10 that's set to launchis expected to look fairly similar to the Galaxy S9, at least in terms of being a traditionally shaped phone with slim bezels and a large screen. Rumors suggest that the Galaxy S10 will have a face unlocking camera, the first "ultrasonic" in-screen fingerprint reader and a "bright night" camera mode for low-light photos (similar to what Huawei phones and the phones have).
If the rumors are true, this is a good features haul, though not extraordinary on the whole when you compare the checklist with other phones. For example, Apple's Face ID is already two years old and versions of all these rumored S10 features have long appeared on competing Android phones, with varying degrees of success. Phones from rivals like Huawei, Google and Apple are catching up or have already outpaced Samsung in a few key areas.
But with the foldable phone, Samsung will have a head start on them all.
Samsung's competitors are innovating hard
Samsung is currently the largest phone brand on the planet by sales volume, but it's hardly sitting pretty. Phones sales are iPhones as expected. Samsung needs its Galaxy S10 to impress if it's going to keep its place at the top., with even trillion-dollar Apple that it hasn't sold as many new
Does Samsung really have anything to fear? Huawei, which ousted Apple to, is in a tight spot. The company, which is also one of the biggest names in telecommunications equipment, has been over fears of spying for the Chinese government, despite Huawei's insistence that it adheres to local laws wherever it operates. Since last year, massive and deals dried up and two of the company's employees have been .
Although Huawei's business is imperiled, the handsets themselves are on the rise. The Huawei phones we've seen since last CES have outpaced Samsung's flagship models with three rear cameras, like theand , an in-screen fingerprint reader and flashy finishes and colors, like the stunning that's the first standout phone of 2019.
(Summer's midprice Google's top-scoring flagship retains one rear lens.)has three rear cameras, but Samsung has yet to launch a premium phone with the same technology. Then again,
Huawei, too, edged Samsung its AI camera agenda, and introduced photography software that closes the gap with some iPhone features -- like dramatic lighting for selfie photos, and Huawei's version of Apple's "Animoji" that avoids the pitfalls of Samsung's extremely creepy AR Emoji.
Samsung heads into 2019 with the advantage of rock-solid partner support, but flagging momentum. After its third quarter ended in October, Samsung said in a press release that it "achieved solid sales of flagship models" and that "total smartphone shipments remained flat due to decreased sales of mid- to low-end products." Even though Samsung expects sales to rise in 2019, this is hardly confidence-stirring stuff.
Meanwhile, Huawei's sales have grown despite an almost total US shutout (the US is the world's second-largest phone market after China), and its devices are innovating faster. At the end of December, Huawei announced that it soldunits across all its divisions, including the mid-level Honor line.
It's into this mix that the Galaxy S10 will answer the ultimate question of whether or not Samsung can catch up in terms of shelf appeal. There's also Apple to contend with. When CEO Tim Cook unveiled thein 2017, it was a radically redesigned device that introduced cutting-edge technology like Face ID, a 3D front-facing camera that maps your face for secure unlocking and gesture controls.
The Galaxy S10 is more likely to stay the course, acting as the anchor while Samsung pours all the risk into making its foldable phone surprising and new.
Foldable Galaxy X: The ace up Samsung's sleeve
That something "new" Samsung's betting on to carry it through 2019 will likely be another phone altogether. Samsung has committed to a foldable phone, rumored to be called the, by the first half of the year. The design is considered the future.
Foldable phones are poised to shake up a phone industry based on flat, bricklike handsets. While only one foldable phone currently exists, the, which is currently on backorder, the new designs are already credited with ushering in new ways to use your most personal device.
Phones that open up into larger screen tablets will create more space for people to engage with apps, videos and games. But, as with tablets, they also have the potential to make multitasking easier, or split a screen to give you controls on one side and a viewing area on the other. 2017'sdidn't have a bendable screen -- it connected two separate displays with a hinge -- it showcased different ways to use two displays back-to-back, including a mirror mode that projected the same thing on both screens.
Samsung isn't alone here. Just last week, Xiaomi teased a LG, Huawei and others have also said they're developing foldable prototypes. Motorola is rumored to with a "foldable" design of its own. TCL, which makes BlackBerry and Alcatel phones, TVs and panels to sell to other devicemakers, also said it'd make a . Here's the scoreboard for all the foldable phone makers with skin in the game.that folds in two places, like a trifold wallet.
"2019 is about 5G and full display designs," Wayne Lam, an analyst at IHS, told CNET's Roger Cheng. "I would say the market won't get really interesting until 2020."
With Google's, you can bet these designs will proliferate.
"Unless the foldable device is supported by solid operating system and software support, a foldable phone risks going into history as a gimmick," said Werner Goertz, a senior director and analyst at Gartner.
5G-ready phones are even more important
If the foldable "Galaxy X" phone is the party animal of Samsung's phone business in 2019, Samsung's first 5G phones are the buttoned-up blazer types that will get the job done.
Samsung has already pledged four US phones in 2019 to take advantage of the first networks to offer immense 5G speeds with almost zero latency: one each forand , and . The hope in having these devices ready even before the networks get going is to make the transition from 4G to 5G networks quicker and smoother than the shift from 3G to 4G.
Since the first 5G devices will cost more than their 4G counterparts, expect these handsets to look more like today's Galaxy S9 than a wacky phone that folds down the center. Samsung won't double up its risk -- or increase the price of an already expensive foldable phone -- by putting them both together at first.
In fact, rumors point to aof the Galaxy S10. The tech giant did show a at its CES booth -- behind glass -- but wouldn't tell us which carrier it's destined for, or how its final design might change.
Foldable phones might not pan out, or it could take years for the industry to hone the materials, apps and overall look that works best. But 5G phones are a sure bet that will allow Samsung to remain on the forefront as networks slowly replace LTE with 5G. This transition will take time, and the first 5G phones are.
In the meantime, the 4G Galaxy S10 will be waiting, and so will its fiercest rivals.
Samsung declined to comment on this story.
Originally published Jan. 13 at 4:00am PT.
Update: Jan. 14 at 8:50am PT.
Update: Jan. 27 at 4 am PT.
Galaxy X? Galaxy F?
Everything we know about