Samsung yesterday announced that the Galaxy Round, its first smartphone to ship with a curved display, is now available in Korea. The device costs $1,ooo without a contract, is currently available in just one color, and isn’t expected to launch internationally. Samsung isn’t releasing the next great smartphone — it’s testing an expensive gimmick in its home market.
The company promises in its marketing materials that the Galaxy Round’s curved display will make it easier to interact with the device by allowing people easy access to their notifications and favorite apps. But those are software fixes that have been done better on previous devices. It makes sense to experiment with displaying information on a device — Google is doing just that with Google Now and the Moto X — but rocking a smartphone as it rests on a table seems less like an innovative feature and more like a last-ditch effort to justify the curved display.
It’s become a trope to describe most smartphones released in the last few years as boring. They feature the same basic features as their predecessors, relying on aesthetic changes or small upgrades to differentiate themselves from their forebears and competitors. If there’s anything to be learned from the Galaxy Round, it’s that sometimes it’s better to stay boring than to release a novel device with a gimmick that doesn’t allow it to do anything better than its competitors. But that might not be the device’s real issue.
The Galaxy Round’s main problem is that it’s a technology demo masquerading as a consumer product. Developing a mass market-ready curved display is the first step towards developing truly flexible devices that can bend and twist with ease, just as Samsung demonstrated during CES 2013.
Samsung isn’t the only company expected to release a curved smartphone this fall. LG is reportedly planning to announce similar device in November. But if the company’s claim that it has developed flexible, cable-like batteries is any indicator, releasing a smartphone with a curved display isn’t its main goal. It wants to make devices that can curl, fold, and roll like a scroll. Samsung wants to do the same.
Few people should buy the Galaxy Round. It might make for an interesting status symbol — someone willing to spend $1,000 on a gimmicky smartphone probably wishes to flaunt their wealth — but it’s hardly a mass-market device. But it is the first step towards truly unique devices unlike anything on the market today, and that might make the gimmick worthwhile to Samsung even if it’s useless to everyone else.
[Image via Samsung Tomorrow]