Most Influential Projects 2020

22 Galaxy Fold


For reshaping smartphone expectations

Smartphone design was starting to feel a little predictable. Then late last year, along came Samsung’s Galaxy Fold with a feature that lets users—ahem—unfold the device to nearly double the screen size. Reviewers called it “supremely cool” and “a wild new kind of device.”

It’s a sleek smartphone, on one hand (or in one hand, if you prefer); and an Android tablet with a 7.3-inch (18.5-centimeter) screen on the other. The device’s magic came from breakthrough science, via a polymer material that Samsung calls the Infinity Flex Display. The operating system that undergirds the Fold, made by Google, is designed specifically to support the Fold’s dual nature, adjusting depending on whether the device is in phone or tablet mode.

Whether Samsung’s achievement is part of a new wave of smartphone innovation depends on both consumer uptake and technical improvement. There have been serious questions about the Fold’s performance: When Samsung sent an initial set of devices to reviewers in April 2019, several quickly broke. The company put the brakes on the Fold’s release, as the team went back to work. Even after the re-release in September, design gremlins remained, with the “technical marvel” plaudits from reviewers tempered by caveats related to fragility—and a steep price of about US$2,000.

Still, there’s something to be said for a first-to-market splash. (Huawei released its own foldable phone in China late last year and Motorola followed suit in February.) By December 2019, Samsung reported it had sold 1 million of the Fold.

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