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With Samsung’s Galaxy S and foldable Galaxy Z phones, analyst says camera battles are back

Samsung Electronics on Tuesday (February 11) unveiled a foldable smartphone shaped like a large makeup compact and put 5G mobile network capabilities into all of its other flagship devices as it strives to retain the mantle of biggest global phone company.

Samsung’s second attempt at a folding phone after a delayed rollout last year comes as the South Korean firm fends off its traditional rival in the premium smartphone market, Apple Inc , along with ascendant Chinese makers such as Huawei that have eaten into its sales in China and Europe.

Huawei has only released its own folding phones in China, and Apple has yet to release a 5G iPhone of any kind.

Analysts see the folding screen as a nod to fashion-focused consumers, while the 5G phones aim to give Samsung technology bragging rights over Apple.

The Galaxy Z Flip, with folding glass, starts as a large square when closed and expands to look like most smartphones. It will start at $1,380 and be available from Friday (February 14) in purple, gold and black, executives said in San Francisco.

Last year’s Galaxy Fold, a larger unit that folds like a book and was panned for its construction, had a plastic screen.

“The critical thing with the Galaxy Z Flip is it’s got to work reliably. It’s got to avoid any potential problems like they had with the first edition of the fold. I think Samsung learned a lot of lessons with the fold,” said Bob O’Donnell of TECHnalysis Research.

Both phones may have creases at the center of the folding screens. Samsung has called the crease a “natural characteristic” of the technology.

Samsung announced a Galaxy S20 phone, starting at $999 and available in March, which will have a 5G option. The Z Flip, however, is a 4G phone.

Samsung was the No. 1 smart phone company overall in 2019, with 21.6% of the global market, according to IDC. But it lost that title to Apple in the December quarter, as cheaper prices for the iPhone 11 launched in the fall helped the U.S. firm mark its best growth since 2015.

Globally it also faces stiff competition from Huawei Technologies Co Ltd, which was a close third in market share in the fourth quarter, although the Chinese company is caught in a U.S.-China battle over security and technology, especially in 5G.

Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights & Strategy said that competition between Huawei and Samsung will be especially prevalent in Europe. “Western Europe and Eastern Europe are the battleground for Huawei and Samsung, and I think Samsung gets the edge here,” he said.

The new S20 devices will come equipped with chips that can handle the multiple kinds of 5G networks being built out by different carriers, the first for a phone sold in the United States.

It moved rear camera lenses of the new Galaxy S20 devices, which compete head-to-head with iPhones, into a squarish black panel, bringing cameras closer to the design of the iPhone 11 series. It also showed off two other Galaxy S phones. The device also shoots so-called 8K video, the highest resolution video now commonly available, and Samsung showed how 8K video on its phones could be sent to its televisions.

“The camera battles in smartphones are absolutely back,” said O’Donnell. “They see from their own research and knowing their own customers how people are using their devices and the quality of the camera and the things they camera can do and the camera features – like the single take feature – those are the kinds of things that I think get people excited about what they can do with their devices.”

Limited foldable display productivity will constrain Samsung, industry officials and analysts say.

Sales are seen at 5 million units at maximum this year, or less than 2% of Samsung’s total smartphone shipments in 2019, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters.

While China’s coronavirus outbreak has started straining the global supply chain and disrupting smartphone production, the South Korean firm is seen the least affected among major producers, as its main manufacturing base is in Vietnam, analysts said. 

(Production: Nathan Frandino)

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