Samsung Electronics (SSNLF) is gearing up to roll out a Galaxy Note-branded smartphone that can fold as soon as next year. Speaking at press conference, Koh Dong-jin, president of the mobile business at the South Korean consumer electronics giant, said the goal is to have it in the marketplace by next year, but there are technical hurdles that still need to be dealt with, reported Bloomberg, noting those comments give the company leeway if it can’t deliver on its plans. (See also: Next Up for Smartphone Market: Foldable Phones.)
"As the head of the business, I can say our current goal is next year. When we can overcome some problems for sure, we will launch the product," the executive told reporters according to Bloomberg.
Having a foldable phone in the market by 2018 is earlier than indicated by previous comments by Samsung executives. Back in April, Kim Tae-woong, principal engineer at the company’s display unit, predicted phones that fold will hit the consumer market in 2019. “Because the bezel-free display currently sells well, we still have enough time to develop foldable display. The technology is expected to be mature around 2019,” said Kim Tae-woong, as quoted in the Korea Herald. “Samsung Display is expected to commercialize foldable phones in 2019 because the company does not need to sell the new hardware because it is already enjoying 20 percent of operating profits with bezel-free display. When the demand for bezel-free handsets slows down, Samsung will unveil the foldable display as the next card.”
Although Koh wouldn’t say what technical problems the device would have to overcome, Bloomberg cited analysts as saying that producing a foldable phone that has advanced technology features and sports a thin body for the masses will take some time. Speculation has been abounding that Samsung would come out with a foldable phone sometime next year, but no one knew it would be branded under the Galaxy name.
Samsung isn’t the only smartphone maker eyeing foldable phones. In November, reports emerged that Finland's Nokia Inc. (NOK) received a patent from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for a smartphone that can be folded and looks similar to a pocket mirror. According to media reports, Apple Inc. (AAPL) got its own patent for an iPhone that can fold. That patent was filed in July 2014 and showed off a smartphone that could open and close like a notebook.
Separately, Koh announced the company is working with Harman, the audio speaker company it owns, to develop an artificial intelligence-enabled smart speaker that can understand and act on voice commands. The news is notable given that Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) has already announced it was teaming up with Harman to make a voice-activated speaker powered by its digital assistant Cortana.