Foldable computing devices and phones may have a bright future, but the Samsung Galaxy Fold is not it.
When I first saw the Samsung Galaxy Fold, I was immediately reminded of the Homer Simpson Car. I show this clip to all of my human-computer interaction and user-centered design classes, because it’s a great way to show people the perils of letting users design your products.
One of the things that makes the Homer Simpson Car clip so interesting is that Homer has real desires in a car that are perfectly reasonable. As designers our job is to figure out people’s problems and desires and translate those into great products.
Homer wants a large car because he is a family man with three kids and two pets. He’d also like ways to not be distracted by his three kids while he is driving. He wants places to put his drinks.
He often struggles to find his car when he parks in a large parking lot. Homer wants a car that is pretty quick because he wants to feel alive every now and then in his suburban dad life.
All of this is great feedback from a user. Understanding the problems Homer faces and understanding his life is a great way to inform design. By utilizing contextual inquiry and user interviewing, we can find out the problems that people like Homer face and synthesize that data and translate it into actionable requirements to build again.
Where the Homer Simpson Car implodes is that it lets a user actually design the car. Homer is not a designer. He has no idea how to design anything.
So it ends up that he has really bad solutions to his problems. He can’t take sensible requirements and make them into good product design. Almost no user can. Don’t let users design your products for you.
The Galaxy Fold is the kind of device that a random user might think is interesting in the abstract. It’s a phone. It’s a tablet. It folds in half!
But good product design is not about letting your users design your products for you — it’s about solving users problems and making their lives better.
So what problem does the Galaxy Fold solve and how does it make people’s lives better? The problem, as best I can tell, is that you can have one device that is both a phone and a tablet. But that doesn’t seem like a true problem.
A truer problem is that tablets are so big that they require a bag to carry them around. A foldable phone that expands to a tablet could theoretically fit in your pocket. This could solve a problem for people looking to carry a larger device around without needing to put it in a bag.
The problem with this is that the Galaxy Fold is way too thick to fit in most reasonable pockets. You would most likely need dedicated or custom pockets for this thing, and at that point, what’s the point?
The other aspect of this that is very Homer Simpson car-ish is that the prices starts at $1980. That’s almost $2,000 for what is effectively a small tablet — about iPad Mini size. This is not a tablet that is going to compete with an iPad Pro or Surface in terms of functionality or use.
The Galaxy Fold is a pretty small tablet, as you can see in the image above. It’s not that much bigger than some of the huge phones on the market. It’s definitely a tweener device in many ways.
And then there is the phone component. This appears to be an atrocious phone. It is very thick (because it is essentially two phones stuck together), has massive bezels, and has a screen that isn’t even centered.
Look at how little space on the front of this device is the actual screen. This is a huge departure from recent smartphone trends of trying to use as much as the front of a device for a screen. Samsungs other smartphones are almost completely screen on the front. Notice that the bezels aren’t even symmetrical. You have this relatively tiny screen floating off center on the front of this device.
Here you’ll find the fold in action in this introduction video. If you don’t fully page attention, it kind of looks interesting, but it’s when you work through the details that things begin to fall apart.
Some people are calling this ambitious. That’s only something that someone who has never built products would say. The correct term for the Galaxy Fold is prototype.
It is an interesting prototype. With some more refinement and time, it might even be an interesting product. But we shouldn’t celebrate when company’s release high-baked prototypes.
Remember, a Minimal Viable Product needs to actually be viable. Is this viable?
Is there a market for a foldable tweener device? Maybe! I don’t think a consumer market is right for this right now, but there are occupations that require people to have tablets on them for entering in data.
This is becoming more and more common for healthcare, architecture, and some other professions. Having a small, foldable tablet might be more convenient than other existing small tablets. The quarter-assed phone on this might be good enough just for fielding work calls and other work activities.
If Samsung wanted to first start by targeting specific professional markets with this, they might get great feedback and begin to be able to refine this for consumer use. That does not appear to be their strategy here.
Also, with 79 percent of smartphone users using a protective case, how is that going to work for a device like this? It seems to me that either a mobile product like this needs to be very durable and impact hesitant or it needs to allow for use a case.
The last part of the Design Critique Rubric is to determine whether or not a user-centered design process was followed when building a product. A user-centered design process focuses product design and development on figuring out users’ problems and designing solutions to those.
At first glance, this does not appear a user-centered design process was followed (it’s hard to imagine the phone part of this being well received by users). I’m willing to put it through the full rubric once this device ships, but until then, I don’t see strong evidence of a user-centered design process.