Samsung is really the only hardware phone maker that scares Apple right now. This is because they have shown they can out-market Apple in the past and will fund marketing, not only to Apple levels, but to levels that exceed Apple’s. It’s Edge phone is arguably the most successful Android iPhone rival in market at the moment though the iPhone continues to outsell it. This company is highly motivated to beat Apple but likely will never be able to do it with a phone that just looks like a derivative of the iPhone. But just like Apple took a design that was initially unpopular, (the LG Prada which looked like the phone the iPhone was based on, was shown first, but sold very poorly because the iPhone was significantly better), and made it wildly successful Samsung or LG could do the same.
Instead Samsung recently pulled a design that was extremely popular from the past and revitalized it, and apparently this is just the initial effort. It plans to do more, and this could be even more successful. Let me explain.
The Problems With A Screen Phone
The reasons that screen phones initially didn’t sell well were legion and amazingly, given the success of this form factor, still exist. They are relatively fragile. They are very hard to blind dial (you can voice dial but relatively few do this). They are relatively hard to use hands-free (most still don’t use a Bluetooth headset). And, they have to be really big to be really good which is why the largest phones are becoming the most popular.
The Alternative to A Screen Phone
The smartphone design that was most popular before Apple took the market wasn’t a smartphone it was a flip phone. It’s design actually owes its roots to the original Star Trek TV show and the flip phone was relatively robust (the screen was protected by the case), it had a keyboard so you could blind dial it, it opened in a V so it could be placed on your shoulder better, and it actually was relatively small so you could more easily put it into a pocket. On this last the sturdiness also made it far safer to put one in your back pocket.
The thing is that the Motorola RAZR, the most popular flip phone, wasn’t a smartphone. Samsung and LG just changed that.
Samsung’s New Flip Phone
So Samsung and LG have flip phones. The newest is from Samsung which just brought out a new flip phone and the Galaxy Folder and it has potential. Part of that potential is because, since the iPhone launched, we discovered tablets and tethered a tablet can do virtually everything a screen phone can do better except make phone calls. So a better overall solution might be a smartphone focused on the one thing that tablets suck at and a tablet you use for everything else. This would keep the cost of the phone down, allow you to use a very different design that made calling better but gave up advantages on the rest (other than playing music and maybe taking pictures) and effectively give you the best of both worlds.
The Samsung Galaxy Folder has a screen that is a bit larger than the original iPhone at 3.8” and a decent, though not market leading technology load out. But then if you use a tethered tablet it doesn’t need to be. This phone is a higher end than the LG but at $257 still is far less expensive than an iPhone.
The LG Wine (and because LG believes Apple swiped their design for the iPhone they are unusually motivated to go after Apple) flip phone on spec looks to be even more portable and affordable with a smaller screen and lower price. Likely a far better phone already than an iPhone for a child because it will hold up so much better. And at $170 it is very affordable.
But this is just the first effort, Samsung has taken out a patent to create a next generation flip phone that can morph between a flip phone and screen phone design due to a unique flexible screen. That way you could have the advantages of a Flip phone and the advantages of a screen phone in one device.
Wrapping Up: What Comes Around Goes Around
Much like Apple took the market from everyone else by rethinking the phone, the market could again be seized by a firm, or firms, that come up with something that steps away from the screen phone’s limitations and uses existing and new technology to create an even more amazing device. Much like we moved from brick mobile phones, to flip phones, to screen phones the evolution of the smartphone is far from over and eventually we may even have them surgically implanted. Until then your next phone might be a flip phone and the next market could have someone else leading it. Both Samsung and LG plan to be that someone, and Lenovo is also in this race (and their Motorola division is the one that owned the cell phone market before Apple changed the game).
Unfortunately neither phone will be available in the US (outside of gray market importers) but if they are successful future versions will go worldwide. So, by the end of the decade, your next phone could pull from the 90s and be a better phone and your tablet will likely be a far better peer device than it currently is. We’ll see.