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Samsung’s big bet on a foldable future

Samsung's Galaxy Z Flip 3 and Fold 3

Good morning! This Friday, Samsung thinks the future is foldable, Amazon drops its "draconian" game-making rules and Facebook's changing its back-to-work policies — again.

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The Big Story

The future is foldable

Unless your name is Apple, the world of tech news doesn't pay much attention to the smartphone anymore. New models come and go, sometimes with a better camera and maybe a nicer screen. Yet Samsung is perhaps the only company beyond the iPhone maker capable of still turning heads, and it did just that this week with its summer Unpacked event.

Samsung announced two new flagship foldable phones, the Galaxy Z Flip 3 and the Galaxy Z Fold 3. The former is the first of Samsung's foldables priced under $1,000, with an attractive $999 price tag equal to that of this year's Galaxy S21 Plus.

  • The August Unpacked event, typically dedicated to the ultra-large Galaxy Note line, was instead repurposed into a message Samsung wants consumers and the industry to take note of: Foldables are here to stay.
  • A cheaper Galaxy Z Flip means it might be the first mainstream foldable device consumers choose over a standard, non-folding alternative. It comes in seven colors and supports an array of pleasant-looking cases, so it's no sideshow or gimmick device aimed at the early adopter. Samsung wants us to think the Galaxy Z Flip 3 is the real deal.
  • The Galaxy Z Fold 3 costs $1,799, and it still maintains its spot in the strange gray area between experimental tech and luxury consumer electronic devices. It comes with S Pen support and a 120Hz display, but the main draw is the 7.3-inch tablet-sized display when unfolded. Don't expect to see this one out in public in large numbers … or at all.

Samsung is the foldable phone company now. It was the first major smartphone maker to launch a foldable back in 2019, and to a rather disastrous result. But it's stuck with it, and this year appears to have turned a corner on quality, performance and price.

  • The same year as the initial Galaxy Fold flop, Samsung launched nearly a dozen different phones across its Galaxy S, Note and Lite lines, none of them at all remarkable. Now, two years later, Samsung is putting its focus on foldables and won't be releasing new models in its Note line.
  • Few other companies have produced foldables, and those that have hit the market have been as gimmicky, overpriced and forgettable as Samsung's early attempts. (The interesting Motorola Razr refresh was a rare exception.)
  • Samsung is in a strong position to corner the folding phone market, and its new $999 model could cement the Galaxy Z Fold line as the most affordable and performant foldable on the market.

But foldables are still a hard sell. Most people just want a smartphone that works as advertised and has a nice camera; everything else is secondary. Samsung hopes its folding screens, and lower prices, are enough to get consumers excited about the smartphone again.

  • "We've seen that users who have tried foldable phones like the experience and say they want to use them again," Roh Tae-moon, the president of Samsung's mobile communications business, told The Wall Street Journal. "But it's hard to discover the value of foldables if they haven't had a chance to experience them."
  • Much like virtual reality, foldable phones are futuristic-sounding concepts that are nonetheless difficult to advertise. It's not clear why anyone wants or needs a folding phone. Samsung's mission now is to help communicate the appeal and advantages of devices that can shrink their form factors and slip more easily into our pockets.

Still, Samsung has a reputation for pushing the envelope of smartphone design. Time and again it's been ahead of the curve, arriving first to market with a product others, even Apple, end up copying years later. The jury is still out on foldables. Wired's Lauren Goode this week called the foldable phone the modern-day 3D TV, and there's a good chance foldables do end up falling by the wayside.

But Samsung is betting as much on the technology as it is on its dominant position as arguably the only company that can deliver it. In a market as mature as the smartphone, it's a smart wager, and whether the foldable iPhone follows in a few years will be a good indicator of whether Samsung was right.

— Nick Statt (email | twitter)

A MESSAGE FROM SINGAPORE EDB

Singapore is fast becoming a global hotbed of tech innovation. It's easy to see why. Nearly 80 of the world's top 100 tech firms have set up outposts there, including Google, Facebook, Stripe, Salesforce and homegrown unicorns like the super-app Grab.

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People Are Talking

Amazon scrapped an old policy that gave it rights to video games made by employees after hours, Amazon Game Studios chief Mike Frazzini said:

  • "These policies were originally put in place over a decade ago when we had a lot less information and experience than we do today, and as a result, the policies were written quite broadly."

Bill Gates is hoping for big climate-related wins from the infrastructure bill, and said he'll fund projects in Europe and Asia if it doesn't pass:

  • "You'll never get that scale up unless the government's coming in with the right policies, and the right policy is exactly what's in that infrastructure bill."

Elon Musk says Renesas and Bosch are bringing down electric car production:

  • "We are operating under extreme supply chain limitations regarding certain 'standard' automotive chips."

Restaurant consultant Tim Powell doesn't think Grubhub's new ordering system will be a good look for vendors:

  • "What concerns me is if the consumer has a bad experience no matter where the fault lies, the restaurant may get the bad publicity and not Grubhub. The restaurant will not have a way to bring the consumer back."

Making Moves

Nubank is preparing for an IPO later this year, Bloomberg reported. The Brazilian fintech company could potentially seek a valuation of more than $40 billion.

Lee Jae-yong is out of prison. Samsung's leader isn't able to technically return to work for a while, but he already has some big business decisions to make.

Gopuff is acquiring Dija, a British instant grocery delivery service, as the company looks to grow in Europe.

Jennifer Mitchell is the new VP of talent at Updater. She previously worked on recruiting and talent acquisition at Postmates, Facebook and Sentry.

Mark Almon joined Holovach as the director of global compliance and policy. He previously held several positions advising the government on financial crimes.

Dave Hansen is Arcserve's interim CEO. He's been on the board of the data and ransomware protection company, and he'll lead the search for a permanent CEO.

Srinivas Krishnaswamy is the new COO at Plexos. He most recently served as the EVP at AECOM, where he worked for two decades.

Eddy Cue is now the senior vice president of services at Apple, a new title to reflect the team he's been running for the last couple of years.

In Other News

  • TikTok is trying to address child privacy concerns. The app is introducing a few tools for teenagers, including a pop-up for under-16s that will allow them to select who can watch their videos, and a feature for older teens so they can decide who can download their public videos.
  • Facebook's delaying its re-opening to January, following a handful of other tech companies that delayed their return to 2022. The company had most recently set a vaccine mandate for anyone going back.
  • Amazon is planning to track its customer service employees' keystrokes and cursors, Vice reported. An internal document says it's an effort to stop rogue workers or imposters from hacking customer information.
  • Lionel Messi will be paid in crypto. Well, partially, but still. Messi signed a deal with the soccer club Paris Saint-Germain, which includes "$PSG Fan Tokens" as part of his welcome package.
  • Where is MacKenzie Scott's money going? In short, almost everywhere. The fourth-richest woman in the world pledged over $8 billion in gifts over the past year to grants, social assistance, education and many more causes.
  • Airbnb is feeling the effects of the delta variant. The number of people booking through the company fell in the third quarter compared to pre-pandemic levels, with shares dropping more than 3% in extended trading.
  • Zambia cut off social media access on its election day, potentially raising suspicion about the results of a tight presidential race. Voters couldn't log onto Twitter, WhatsApp, Facebook, Messenger or Instagram.
  • Foxconn wants to start making electric cars in 2023. The electronics maker is planning to build EV facilities in the United States and Thailand with hopes of mass producing the vehicles by the following year.

One More Thing

How to use Slack Huddles

Slack's new audio chat feature Huddles lets you hit up your colleagues whenever — all you need to do is accept an invitation from a co-worker or start one yourself by clicking the little headphones button in the lower-left corner of Slack.

But don't go calling all your co-workers just yet; there are some general guidelines and etiquette to follow. First, you should always ask before starting a call, especially if you're starting a huddle in a channel that has multiple people. Once a huddle has started, you can hit the microphone button to mute yourself, the screen button to share your screen and the people icon to add people to the chat. You can also enable captions by pressing the three dots and clicking "turn captions on." Huddles can be great for quick chats with other people on the team. But if it turns out you'd rather just type everything out, you can turn the feature off completely — just ask your manager first.

A MESSAGE FROM SINGAPORE EDB

Business leaders say they choose Singapore for its modern tech infrastructure, strong government support, robust pipeline of talent and pro-business regulations (the World Bank ranks it No. 2 in the world for ease of doing business). Plus, its location in the heart of Southeast Asia serves as a launchpad into the bustling Asian-Pacific market.

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