SAN FRANCISCO: Seeking to rev up demand in the slumping smartphone market, Samsung on Wednesday (Feb 20) unveiled a folding handset, becoming the first major manufacturer to offer the feature.
The South Korean giant also appeared to get the jump on rivals by announcing the first device for fifth-generation, or 5G wireless networks, one of four versions of its flagship smartphone, while stepping up its efforts in artificial intelligence and wearables.
The Galaxy Fold, unveiled at a San Francisco event, serves as a smartphone with a 4.6-inch display and unfolds to become a tablet of 7.3 inches.
"We are giving you a device that doesn't just define a new category, it defies category," said Samsung's Justin Denison at the event.
The Fold will be available on Apr 26 starting at US$1,980, the company said.
The launch comes with the smartphone market in its worst-ever decline with consumers keeping devices longer and waiting for new innovations.
Samsung made the announcement on the home turf of rival Apple, with the two giants battling for the premium segment of the market.
Denison said the Fold is "a one of a kind luxury device with immersive visuals," and offers "a truly next generation experience" that enables multi-tasking on its large screen.
The tech giant said the Fold can open up to three active apps simultaneously.
Samsung also announced its new Galaxy S10 handset, upgrading its current line of flagship handsets including one 5G device, getting a jump on rivals expected to make similar announcements at next week's Mobile World Congress.
READ: Blown away by innovation or price? Samsung's foldable phone opens up debate
"We are pushing beyond the limits of today's technology to inspire a new generation of smartphones and recharge growth for our industry," said DJ Koh, head of mobile communications at Samsung Electronics.
"For those who say everything possible has already been done, I say open your mind and get ready for the dawn of a new mobile era. Buckle your seatbelt, the future is about to begin."
He said the Galaxy Fold was designed "for those that want to experience what a premium foldable device can do, beyond the limitations of a traditional smartphone."
Analyst Bob O'Donnell of Technalysis Research said on Twitter: "As expected, it's not cheap, but the #GalaxyFold will still be THE device for gadget lovers."
The S10 handsets, coming in four versions including the 5G model, will offer improved color display with active matrix organic light emitting (AMOLED) technology, improved battery life and upgraded cameras.
They will feature Ai-enhanced software and wireless charging capabilities - allowing users to charge itself and a second device simultaneously.
No price or release date was announced for the S10 5G version. Other options include the S10e starting at US$749, and the largest version, S10 Plus at US$999, which will be available on Mar 8.
AI AND WEARABLES
Samsung also announced that its digital assistant Bixby will be available in new languages - British English, German, Italian and Spanish - in addition to the already available US English, Korean and Mandarin Chinese.
The move helps Samsung step up efforts in the rapidly growing field of voice-based artificial intelligence dominated by Amazon's Alexa and Google Assistant.
"We are strongly committed to our AI business, and continuously expanding Bixby's intelligence capabilities to provide more users with the best possible AI experience," said Eui-Suk Chung, Samsung's head of software and AI.
The company also introduced a new lineup of wearable tech devices including its Galaxy Watch Active smartwatch, Galaxy Fit trackers and its cord-free earbuds, called Galaxy Buds.
The smartwatch will supports apps designed to monitor blood pressure and stress indicators and is designed to detect a variety of workouts including running, biking and rowing.
"Consumers are increasingly putting their overall well-being at the centre of their lifestyle decisions, and they're looking for wearables that make it easier to get active and stay balanced every day," said Koh.
The Samsung Fold is aimed at popularising new kinds of displays in a future where devices and be more easily folded or rolled up.
Earlier this year at the Consumer Electronics Show, Chinese startup Royole showed off what it claimed is the first foldable smartphone, which can fit into a pocket but unfold into a full-sized tablet computer, which is available in China and the US for some US$1,300.
Samsung at the same time is opening three US retail stores to promote its Galaxy line of smartphones, stepping up competition on Apple's home turf.