Feb 21, 2019

The Galaxy Fold pushes smartphone prices to new heights

Samsung's DJ Koh shows off the Galaxy Fold on Wednesday. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

When Samsung showed off its foldable smartphone Wednesday, there were some "oohs" and "aahs." But when the company announced the phone would start at $1980, the enthusiasm turned to groans and dropped jaws.

Why it matters: The announcement pushes the price of smartphones — or at least one phone — to previously unheard of altitudes, raising the question, "Just how high can smartphone prices go?"

The bottom line: A tiny fraction of folks will pay $2,000 or more for a smartphone provided it is significantly luxurious and makes them the coolest executive or celebrity in the room.

  • That's clearly the market Samsung is going for with its Galaxy Fold, though it didn't specifically say who might buy the new device.
  • For most people, though, current top-of-the-line smartphones are already stretching their budgets.
  • It wasn't that long ago that $800 was seen as the highest starting point consumers would stomach.

Flashback: In 2015, I predicted that Samsung had gone too far and that $900 would prove to be the high water mark for non-Apple phone prices.

  • "The era of the big-bucks phablet is coming to an end," I boldly and wrongly declared.

Meanwhile, high-end phone prices have moved steadily upward in recent years even as the market has matured, with consumers showing plenty of appetite to pay up for larger screens and better cameras.

  • Yes, but: There's a difference between a little year-over-year price creep and introducing a phone that costs more than a high-end smartphone and tablet combined.

The Galaxy Fold raises other questions, too, including whether the world really needs a foldable phone. For the uninitiated, the Galaxy Fold consists of a smaller "cover screen" and then the big unfolding tablet-size one that appears when you open (aka unfold) the device.

  • The pros: A foldable phone lets you have something that's easy to hold and can often be put in a pocket, while also offering more screen real estate for browsing the web or watching a movie.
  • The cons: Obviously first and foremost is the cost. But the Galaxy Fold is also thicker when folded up than a traditional phone, and its folded-up screen is just 4.6 inches diagonally.

While this effort is sleeker than past attempts, others have introduced devices that took a roughly similar approach with less advanced technology.

  • One of the more recent attempts was ZTE's Axon M, which had similar pros and cons, albeit at a price tag that was less than half of the Galaxy Fold.

What's next: Expect more foldable devices, with Huawei, Xiaomi and Lenovo all in various stages of development.

Go deeper: Smartphone ownership is rising around the world

Go deeper

Acting Navy secretary resigns over handling of virus-infected ship

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly resigned Tuesday after apologizing for comments he made about Capt. Brett Crozier, who was removed from his post after a letter he wrote pleading with the Navy to address the coronavirus outbreak aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt was leaked to the press. The news was first reported by Politico.

Why it matters: The controversy over Crozier's removal was exacerbated after audio leaked of Modly's address to the crew, in which he said Crozier was either "too naive or too stupid to be a commanding officer of a ship like this." After initially backing Modly's decision, President Trump said at a briefing Monday that he would "get involved."

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 4 p.m. ET: 1,407,123— Total deaths: 81,103 — Total recoveries: 297,934Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 4 p.m. ET: 386,800 — Total deaths: 12,285 — Total recoveries: 20,191Map.
  3. Trump admin latest: Trump removes watchdog overseeing rollout of $2 trillion coronavirus bill.
  4. Federal government latest: Senate looks to increase coronavirus relief for small businesses this week — Testing capacity is still lagging far behind demand.
  5. World update: China reopens Wuhan after 10-week coronavirus lockdown.
  6. Wisconsin primary in photos: Thousands gathered to cast ballots in-person during the height of the coronavirus crisis in the U.S.
  7. What should I do? Pets, moving and personal health. Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

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Pelosi calls for removal of acting Navy secretary

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday called for the firing or resignation of acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly, following his decision to relieve Capt. Brett Crozier from his command of the USS Theodore Roosevelt last week.

Why it matters: Pelosi said Modly "showed a serious lack of the sound judgment and strong leadership" in firing Crozier, who wrote a letter pleading for help in battling a coronavirus outbreak onboard the ship. The letter was leaked to the press, leading to Crozier's ouster.