Samsung's long-rumored foldable phone still hasn't appeared, but its mobile chief offered one compelling case for a product that could easily be written off as a gimmick.
D.J. Koh, CEO of Samsung's mobile business, said you'll be able to use the device as a tablet with multitasking capability before being able to fold it up into a more portable phone.
"When we deliver a foldable phone, it has to be really meaningful to our customer," Koh said in an interview at the sidelines of the Samsung Galaxy A9 launch. "If the user experience is not up to my standard, I don't want to deliver those kind of products."
Koh once again stressed the foldable phone wouldn't be a "gimmick product" that will "disappear after six to nine months after it's delivered." It'll also be available globally, unlike previous phones like the Galaxy Round, which used a curved display and was available only in Korea.
However, the foldable Samsung phone, like the Galaxy Round, will be Samsung's testbed device to see how reviewers and the market react. The Galaxy Round, which bowed vertically in the middle, was Samsung's first curve-screen phone. It's a direct ancestor to the dual curved screens we see on today's Galaxy S9 and Note 9 phones.
Read: Why you might want a foldable Samsung phone
Samsung has been chasing the holy grail of a foldable phone since it teased one at CES 2013 by showing off a flexible OLED display. Koh confirmed last month that Samsung's upcoming device will be launched this year and could debut as early as next month at Samsung's Developer Conference. The folding capability would mark a major advance in smartphones, which have stagnated with fewer innovations.
Samsung isn't the only company aiming at a foldable phone. Huawei could be gunning to be the first to launch such a device, in November. Huawei beat Apple to become the world's second-largest smartphone maker, and is likely aiming for Samsung's top spot. Launching the first foldable phone could help either company cement a reputation as a trailblazer and create buzz that could trickle down to its more traditional, and cheaper, phones.
The larger screen is important, Koh said. When Samsung first released the original Galaxy Note, he said, competitors called its device dead on arrival. Now, after generations of Notes phones, you see larger devices like the iPhone XS Max and the Pixel 3 XL, proving that consumers want bigger screens. A foldable phone would let screen sizes extend beyond 6.5 inches.
"Possibly when we start selling the foldable phone, it may be a niche market, but definitely, it will expand," Koh said. "I'm positive that we do need a foldable phone."
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Originally published Oct. 11.
Update Oct. 12: with more details.