Samsung’s 2019 likely didn’t unfold in the way the company planned or expected. While its Galaxy S10 and Galaxy Note 10 launches went off without a hitch, the Galaxy Fold demonstrated that the Korean firm isn’t infallible. And that wasn’t the only misstep the company suffered.
In order to retain its number one spot in the world, Samsung must refine its design and engineering processes to ensure the Galaxy Fold 2 isn’t a universal flop. Here’s a rundown of Samsung’s successes and failures in 2019 and a peek at what might be in store for the company in 2020.
Galaxy S adds an “e”
The Galaxy S line is Samsung’s core product. It goes head-to-head against Apple’s iPhone, Huawei’s P family, LG’s G series, and Google’s Pixel phones. Over the last few years, Samsung has launched regular and large versions of its flagship smartphone in order to cater to user preferences. This year a third device joined the family, though it wasn’t just the slightly smaller size that set it apart from its stablemates.
Samsung started 2019 with a bang with the Galaxy S10 series.
Samsung debuted the Galaxy S10, S10 Plus, and S10e in San Francisco in February 2019, ahead of the Mobile World Congress trade show. The S10 and S10 Plus shared nearly every feature, with the most obvious differences being the screen and battery sizes. The S10 Plus carried an extra user-facing camera, but that was about the only material change between the two. Each of these phones suffered hefty price tags at launch: $899 and $999, respectively, or about on par with the cost of Apple’s iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max.
Samsung crafted the the S10e to compete with Apple’s lesser iPhone XR. When compared to the S10 and S10 Plus, the S10e had a smaller, flatter, lower-resolution display, a smaller battery, and 6GB of RAM instead of 8GB. Otherwise, the S10e offers the same processor, same basic camera configuration, and other features of its brothers. The S10e matched the Xr’s $749 price at launch, which made it very appealing to those on a budget.
Adding an “e” to the S family was a smart move. It helped, of course, that the entire Galaxy S10 family — the Galaxy S10 5G included — was a lauded set of devices.
Galaxy Fold: Flip or flop?
Just days later, Samsung revealed the Galaxy Fold on stage at Mobile World Congress. The Fold is an advanced, expensive device that features a plastic display that can bend 180 degrees. This allowed Samsung to craft a phone with a tablet-sized, 7-inch display that still fits in your pocket. The excitement surrounding the debut was abated only a little by the sobering $1,980 price tag.
Then came the reviews. Samsung seeded a small number of review units to media outlets in April, and within days a handful of the review units broke. The displays featured a protective film that, to reviewers, appeared to be a pre-installed, removable screen protector. Several people yanked it off and essentially ripped the display apart. That wasn’t the only issue to impact the screen. Samsung first delayed the launch to late June while it investigated, and eventually postponed the phone’s for-sale date to September.
To call the episode embarrassing would be an understatement. Worse, even the re-engineered and re-launched version of the phone broke.
As it stands today, the Fold, as we wrote in our review, is an extravagance. It’s bleeding edge tech that some will want, but until crucial flaws are fixed, no one needs.
More than a foot-Note
While Samsung toiled to repair the Galaxy Fold — and its image — the company rebounded with the Galaxy Note 10 family. Marking its debut in August, the Note 10, which borrowed heavily from the S10 line, showcased Samsung at its best. The phone has one of the best screens, best cameras, and best batteries of any mobile device in the market. This year, a smaller Note 10 joined the Note 10 Plus to broaden the appeal of Samsung’s seminal series.
This one-two Note punch worked. Both phones garnered positive reviews and, as far as anyone can tell, are selling well in the face of a diminished Huawei. The Note 10 Plus would go on to beat out tough competition to win our Best of Android: Reader’s Choice award.
Bridging the divide
October saw Samsung tease a new folding device concept that smacks of the Motorola Moto Razr. The device made a quick appearance at Samsung’s annual developer conference and set off a firestorm of speculation.
This is where we find ourselves today, on the cusp of the annual Consumer Electronics Show with Mobile World Congress looming in the distance. Surely Samsung will have a range of products on display in the Nevada desert, Barcelona, and beyond. So what’s on deck for 2020? Let’s speculate.
Samsung at CES 2020
CES 2020 is just days away. You can count on the company to offer up new gear in just about every category other than mobile. Samsung is kicking the show off with the first official press conference scheduled for January 6, 2020.
Things we expect to see include a range of 8K and 4K television sets. Samsung will sound off on audio with new soundbars.
Samsung will go hard at CES, but don't expect much in the way of smartphone news. That will have to wait for MWC.
Appliances are about to look a whole lot better and the company’s smart fridges (and other smart home stuff) will hopefully see the biggest upgrade, though it’s hard to say if improvements will chiefly be in the software or the hardware of its screen-capable iceboxes.
Last, Samsung showed off several new PCs at its developer conference in October. Maybe a Chromebook will be in the mix, too?
The Galaxy S11
Will Samsung turn it up to 11? Many believe so. The company is widely expected to announce the Galaxy S11 line around MWC 2020.
What will the device feature? Will it even be called the S11? Rumors are more rampant than fact at the moment. Suffice it to say, Samsung will need to deliver a family of hardware that can go toe-to-toe with the iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, and the iPhone 11 Pro Max. Apple delivered some truly excellent hardware last fall and Samsung needs to keep up.
I have full confidence that Samsung will nail the hardware. By this I mean the design, materials, assembly, camera selection, and similar. Areas where Samsung needs to improve: battery life of the smaller variants, combined audio/video quality (i.e., 4K at 60fps with high-quality audio capture), and, ahem, better software with less Bixby.
Whatever the Samsung Galaxy S11e, S11, and S11 Plus offer, they are sure to be exciting devices.
The Fold 2
More than anything else, the Galaxy Fold 2 needs to simply work reliably. No re-dos, no broken replacements, just reliable, working handsets that get the job done. If Samsung can manage that, then it can move on to design, advanced features, and such. In fact, I’d prefer not to see a Fold 2 at all if Samsung can’t get the phone to function properly.
This may be hard for Samsung to accomplish if it changes form factors. Based on the concept Samsung has already revealed, the Fold 2 may be a clamshell-style flip phone. This means the display would bend along the X axis rather than the Y axis. If Samsung can get this right, and deliver a smaller form factor than the over-sized Galaxy Fold, then Samsung has a chance at moving more than a handful of units. If, of course, it also drops the price from $1,980 down to something more affordable.
We can’t count out Samsung’s mid-range offerings, which have really improved in the last year thanks to well-received phones like the Galaxy A50 and A70. The company has a good opportunity to put the screws to Huawei and other low-cost Chinese vendors if it can deliver near-flagship devices at affordable price points.
Samsung might even consider expanding the Galaxy A brand from phones to other devices, such as tablets and PC, technology analyst Carolina Milanesi told Android Authority. The A series could help Samsung “pick up share in markets where Huawei becomes a questionable choice without Google services it also helps them reach users that in the past would have bought an older S series,” said Milanesi.
Samsung already lost the top spot in India to Xiaomi and brands like Realme, Vivo, and Oppo are already nipping at its heels. If Samsung can stop the rot with its renewed A series in 2020, it could blow the market wide open.
Surely one of Samsung’s pain points is its smart home division. The company bought SmartThings and it’s been a rather aimless venture.
“I still struggle to see them capitalize on their SmartThings acquisition. On paper they are still one of the best brands to own the connected home play,” said Milanesi.
Case in point, the totally missing Bixby-powered Galaxy Home smart speaker. Not even Apple seems to be able to compete here, however; Amazon and Google are running circles around the competition.
Samsung’s PC business could help. “Samsung could leverage the push around 5G and connectivity in general to work with carriers on PCs. Their designs are always with a mobile-first focus, and they have plenty to leverage around screen and memory to have an edge,” said Milanesi.
Samsung seems to be able to print money. The company’s finances are in fine shape at the moment. After seeing success with the renewed A series and strong sales for the Note 10, Samsung is riding high over the smartphone market’s current slump.
As long it keeps its business on an even keel and doesn’t take any losses — on disasters such as the Galaxy Fold — it’ll stay in good shape.
“While sales volumes are down from their peak, Samsung remains one of the few phone manufacturers which actually makes money selling phones, and consumers actively seek out Samsung phones at retail when they’re ready for a new device,” noted Avi Greengart, chief analyst at Techsponential. “Last year, an overhaul to the A series made the line vastly more competitive in the mid-tier, and Samsung’s flagship Note 10 was well received.”
Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft are not in imminent danger of losing their top-of-the-market positions, but Samsung could make a run if it finds the right market mix.
These products will probably take Samsung through the mid-point of the year. Once August rolls around, we’ll catch the Galaxy Note 11 family, and hopefully see new wearables and hear new hearables. Samsung cannot ignore the accessories, especially after the Galaxy Buds turned out so well. A refresh, possibly the Galaxy Buds Plus, is expected to join the S11 at launch.
Samsung also did a great job getting Android 10 to the S and Note series in a timely fashion this year. Let’s hope it continues that trend. Moreover, it would be great to see the company take more hints from consumers and refrain from jamming Bixby down our throats.
It would be a good thing if Samsung could avoid scandal in 2020. It’s executives have had a turbulent few years. Let’s hope the company can make it through the year without any C-level execs landing in jail and the company hit with fines for bad behavior.
Last, Samsung would do itself a big favor to capitalize on the bad luck Huawei is suffering. The Chinese company has fallen on the Trump administration’s bad side and can no longer sell phones with the Google Play Store. Samsung could easily make big gains in China if it targets the right price points.
What do you think? What are your thoughts on where Samsung is and where it may be a year from now? Be sure to offer your thoughts below.