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Galaxy Fold Delay Validates Corning CEO That Foldables Not Ready for Prime Time

Samsung's postponement Monday of its Galaxy Fold launch from this Friday to a date not certain validated Corning CEO Wendell Weeks' forecasts last summer that foldable smartphones wouldn't be quite ready for prime time anytime soon (see 1807250008). The first foldables reaching the consumer market will be products “compromising on durability in one direction or the other” because reliable plastic cover materials don’t yet exist for “truly” foldable smartphones, said Weeks on a July earnings call.

Many reviewers "shared with us the vast potential they see" in the Galaxy Fold, said Samsung. "Some also showed us how the device needs further improvements that could ensure the best possible user experience." Online reviewers said the displays on Galaxy Fold test samples Samsung sent them broke a day or two after being unboxed.

Samsung wants more time "to fully evaluate this feedback" from reviewers "and run further internal tests," said the company. Samsung plans to announce a new release date "in the coming weeks," it said. That differed somewhat from reports earlier Monday quoting insiders that a new release date already had been set for May. Preorders of the Galaxy Fold are sold out despite its hefty $1,980 price.

The wording from Samsung suggested no easy fix was at hand. "Initial findings from the inspection" of the damaged displays showed that the flaws "could be associated with impact on the top and bottom exposed areas of the hinge," it said. "There was also an instance where substances found inside the device affected the display performance."

Samsung "will take measures to strengthen the display protection" on the Galaxy Fold, it said. "We will also enhance the guidance on care and use of the display including the protective layer so that our customers get the most out of their Galaxy Fold." Reviewers blamed some of the damage on Samsung's failure to warn them that what looked exactly like a removable screen protector was not removable at all but an integral part of the display's structure.

Display Supply Chain Consultants (DSCC) President Bob O'Brien expects Corning's Weeks again to comment on foldable smartphones on the company's earnings call next week, he told us Monday. "I think the comment will be in the nature of 'I told you so,'" said O'Brien, a former Corning executive. Corning didn't comment.

Weeks was right when he said last summer that plastic cover-film solutions aren't perfected yet for foldable smartphones, emailed DSCC CEO Ross Young Monday. The Galaxy Fold as currently configured has two "thin hard coats instead of one thicker hard coat resulting in a thicker stack due to an extra flexible substrate and extra adhesive layer," said Young. "There are multiple different suppliers still struggling with yields on their particular layer."

The Galaxy Fold has 10 layers of materials "in total over the OLED" substrate, said Young. "An ultra-thin glass solution should be better from a reliability standpoint due to less concerns with delamination and creasing in the seams," he said. "Biggest concerns with the ultra-thin glass will be elongation in the out-fold and managing the hinge."

DSCC believes Samsung "already has a unique ultra-thin glass solution" available, and "we expect it in their next foldable smartphone later in the year," said Young. "Corning won’t be first, it will be another glass supplier." Samsung didn't comment.