After Samsung disaster, foldable phones are a no-show at Google I/O

Samsung's Galaxy Fold was a no-show at Google I/O 2019.

After Samsung disaster, foldable phones are a no-show at Google I/O
After Samsung disaster, foldable phones are a no-show at Google I/O

If foldable phones are supposed to be the future, Google missed its big chance to get people pumped about them.

While they were very briefly mentioned during the main Google I/O keynote on Monday, foldable phones weren’t on display at any of its sessions.

The scrapped plan, I’m told, was to have some kind of foldables showcase in one of the “sandbox” experiences at I/O. There, attendees would have been able to try out foldable phones (or see prototypes and concept devices), and get more information about how Android would be adapted for them. 

The company to blame for the no-show? Almost certainly Samsung.

The Galaxy Fold seemed ready to usher in a new era of mobile with its innovative foldable display, which would let users fold a tablet into a phone they could fit in their pockets. Then, a few weeks ago, came the Fold’s disastrous launch.

Crazy $1,980 price tag aside, I was genuinely impressed with the build quality and software features such as “app continuity,” which allows you to expand an app from the outside display to the interior one. All was going well until Galaxy Folds started breaking. 

Mere days after receiving Galaxy Folds to test, tech reviewers started reporting various ways the devices could easily be damaged. 

One reviewer damaged the Galaxy Fold’s display after debris reportedly got underneath it (likely through the many openings in the device). Other reviewers accidentally destroyed the Fold’s screen by peeling off the protective film covering the interior display; they mistook it for a pre-installed screen protector.

Samsung promptly recalled all review units and delayed the Fold’s worldwide launchindefinitely to investigate durability issues and reinforce the design.

The recall isn’t embarrassing just for Samsung, but also Google. Samsung’s failure will likely set back the development of foldable phone hardware and software.

Instead of loudly preaching in favor of foldable phones, Google’s essentially been forced to slink back and tread cautiously with a wait-and-see approach. Android’s foldable software design is at the mercy of its hardware partners, including Samsung, Huawei, and Xiaomi, all of whom have announced bendable devices. The only way Google wouldn’t be is if it releases its own foldables, but that’s likely not happening anytime soon.

Google says he show will go on, and developers will be able to use an emulator in the Android Q beta to adapt their apps. But there’s little incentive to do so if the physical devices aren’t ready to ship. More