There had been a few contenders for the title when foldables started making headlines a few years ago, but after the curtains came down on the Galaxy Unpacked 2021 event, there was no doubting who the boss of foldables was. As its rivals scrabble around with basics, Samsung yesterday showed us that it was moving to the next level as far as foldable phones were concerned.

samsung galaxy z fold 3 and z flip 3
IMAGE: Samsung

The design is cool, but the development is awesome

Yes, a lot of talk since the launch of the latest Samsung foldables—the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and the Galaxy Z Flip 3—has revolved around their specs and their design, in the best smartphone tradition. There has been the almost expected swooning over the Flip 3’s “cute” form factor (I still think it should not be positioned as a style product) and its external display, and lots of conversation around the Fold 3 has revolved around the support for the S Pen stylus. And of course, the in-display cameras are generating a fair deal of curiosity as well.

galaxy z fold 3 s pen support
IMAGE: Samsung

However, perhaps the biggest takeaway from the event was a more subtle one. It was not the new product portfolio and what it did, or even what it was priced at. And no, contrary to what some worthies said, it was not about Samsung betting its future on foldables in a big way – the brand will continue to make “normal” phones and from all accounts, the flagship S and Note series will stay candybar.

No, the biggest takeaway from Galaxy Unpacked 2021 was that Samsung had moved to the next level in foldables, even as the competition was trying to make up its mind about what to do with the form factor.

Unfolding new devices, as the competition…folds up?

If that sounds difficult to believe, consider the foldables scene from two years ago, when every brand seemed to be trying at some sort of foldable, from combining two phones into one using a connector, to phones that folded in two places to phones that rolled out…there was a lot of experimentation going on, as brands tried to figure out what worked best.

Fast forward to today, and the other brands are STILL trying to figure out what works best in the foldable space. And a large number of their foldable products are mostly seen on influencer feeds or in carefully controlled prototype placements. Contrast that with what Samsung did yesterday – the brand is literally on the third generation of its foldables.

galaxy z flip 3 cover screen
IMAGE: Samsung

More than the numbers, what is also important is that the Korean brand seems to have sorted out what works for it. It is focusing on two form factors—one which flips open on portrait form and another in the landscape. And with form worked out, it is now working on adding functions to its devices, whether it is the external display to make the Flip 3 more accessible even when it is shut or the S Pen functionality on the Fold 3.

What’s more, Samsung is also making its foldables more accessible, reducing prices. No, it would be super naive to assume that these prices will make foldables mainstream (they are still very premium prices), but they will play a big role in bringing them to a bigger audience. More importantly, they will go some way to “normalize” foldables, taking them out of the slightly eccentric and exotic zone in which they currently find themselves.

galaxy z flip 3
IMAGE: Samsung

Meanwhile, the competition is still trying to work out what sort of foldable works. See what we mean?

We do not know when (and some might even say “if”) foldable devices will go mainstream —the thought of a Galaxy M Fold still seems a little unreal—but what we do know after Unpacked 2021, is that Samsung is the OG in the foldable phone department. While others are working on the form, it has got into features and functions and is tweaking affordability. Given its track record and resources, that’s a formidable head start. The foldable competition has its task cut out.

Once it works out what sort of device and form factor works for it…

See? It is that far behind.

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