SAN FRANCISCO — Samsung unveiled a highly anticipated smartphone with a foldable screen in an attempt to break the innovation funk that has beset the smartphone market.
But it's far from clear that consumers will embrace a device that retails for almost $2,000, or that it will provide the creative catalyst the smartphone market needs.
The Galaxy Fold, announced Wednesday in San Francisco, will sell for $1,980 when it is released April 26.
Consumers willing to pay that hefty price will get a device that can unfold like a wallet. It can work like a traditional smartphone with a 4.6 inch screen or morph into something more like a mini-tablet with a 7.3 inch screen.
When fully unfolded, the device will be able to simultaneously run three different apps on the screen. The Galaxy Fold will also boast six cameras: three in the back, two on the inside and one on the front.
After spending nearly five years developing the technology underlying its foldable-screen phone, Samsung is clearly hoping for a big payoff.
"Get ready for the dawn of a new era," declared DJ Koh, who oversees Samsung's smartphone division. The new phone, he said, "answers skeptics who said everything has already been done."
If Samsung is right, the Galaxy Fold will spur more people to upgrade their phones. Overall smartphones sales peaked in 2017; Samsung saw its smartphone sales fall 8 percent last year, based on estimates from the research firm International Data Corp. Worldwide, smartphone sales dropped 4 percent in 2018, according to IDC.
But most analysts see a limited market for foldable-screen phones, at least in the early going. Phones like the Galaxy Fold "are likely to sell to a very limited market of technology aficionados who like big screens and have big wallets," said IDC analyst Ramon Llamas.
Although he also believes the Galaxy Fold is more a "status symbol" than mainstream product, Moor Insights & Strategy analyst Patrick Moorhead said the device is symbolically important for Samsung, the top seller of smartphones in the world. "The Fold was icing on the cake showing that Samsung is the company driving new innovations and excitement to the market," Moorhead said.
There's no doubt that the Galaxy Fold is "luxury technology," conceded Justin Denison, a Samsung senior vice president during an interview. But he also predicted that the advent of foldable screens will unleash new uses for mobile devices. "It's a technological marvel," Denison said. "The first time you see a flexible screen, it sort of bends your mind."
Samsung also released new Galaxy S10 phones that echo the features in other recent models. Each device in the S10 lineup boast fancy cameras, sleek screens covering the entire front of the devices and at least 128 gigabytes of storage — important features to consumers shopping for phones.
The new phones are able take wider-angle shots than previous models and can charge other devices, including wireless headphones and smartwatches. A fourth S10 model, due out this spring, will have faster wireless speeds through the emerging 5G cellular network.
But those improvements aren't a big leap from the smartphones released during the past few years by Samsung, Apple and other top manufacturers.
"These phones are all variations on a theme we have already seen," Llamas said. "It's the same song with a slightly different verse."