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Unfolding the Samsung Galaxy Fold – TechCrunch

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The Galaxy Fold is real. I’ve held it in my hands — a few of them, actually. Samsung’s briefing this morning was littered with the things, in different colors and different states of unfolded. A month or so ago, this was anything but a given.

After eight years of teasing a folding device, Samsung finally pulled the trigger at its developer’s conference late last year. But the device was shrouded in darkness. Then in February, it took the stage as the Galaxy Fold, but there was no phone waiting for us. Ditto for Mobile World Congress a week later, when the device was trapped like a carbonite Han Solo behind a glass display.

With preorders for the phone opening today, ahead of an expected April 26 sale, things were getting down to the wire for Samsung. But this morning, at an event in New York, the Galaxy Fold was on full display, ready to be put through its paces. We happily did just that in the hour or so we had with the product.

Once you get over the surprise that it’s real and about to ship, you find yourself pretty impressed with what Samsung’s done here. It’s easy to get frustrated about a product the company’s essentially been teasing since showing off its first flexible display at 2011, but a radically new form factor is an easy contender for first-generation woes. The fold, on the other hand, is a device that’s been run through the wringer.

Samsung’s already shown us what fold testing looks like in a promotion video that debuted a few weeks back. The handset was subject to 200,000 of those machine folds, which amounts to a lot more than the life of the product. And yes, before you ask, they were subjected to drop testing, the same sort of violent gadget abuse Samsung puts the rest of its gadgets through — both open and closed.

Ditto for the eight-point battery test it’s been subjecting all of its devices to since the Note 7. That’s doubly important given the fact that the Galaxy Fold sports twice the battery. All told, it has 4380mAh, split in two, on either side of the fold. That amounts to “all day battery life” according to Samsung. That’s the same claim you’ll get on most of these devices ahead of launch. Though the Fold apparently presents an extra layer of ambiguity, given that the company isn’t entirely sure how people are actually going to use the thing, once they get it in their hands.

The folding mechanism works well, snapping shut with a satisfying sound, thanks in part to some on-board magnets hidden near the edge. In fact, when the Fold is lying screen down, it has the tendency to attract pieces of metal around it. I found myself absent-mindedly opening and closing the thing. When not in use, it’s like an extremely expensive fidget spinner.

Samsung’s done a remarkable job maintaining the design language from the rest of the Galaxy line. But for the odd form factor, the Fold looks right at home alongside the S10 and the like. The rounded metallic corners, the camera array and, yes, the Bixby button are all on board here.

The edges are split in two, with each screen getting its own half. When the Fold is open, they sit next to each other, with a small gap between the two. When the phone is folded, they pull apart, coming together at a 90 degree angle from the hinge. It’s an elegant solution, with a series of interlocking gears that allow the system to fold and unfold for the life of the product.

Unsurprisingly, Samsung tested a variety of different form factors, but said this was the most “intuitive” for a first-gen product like this. Of course, numerous competing devices have already taken different approaches, so it’s going to be fascinating watching what the industry ultimately lands on when more of these products are out in the world.

Unfolded, the device is surprisingly thin — a hair under the iPhone XS. Folded, it’s a bit beefier than two iPhones, owing to a gap between the displays. While the edges of the device come into contact when closed, they form a long, isosceles triangle, with a gap that increases as you move toward the middle.

Unfolded, the seam in the middle of the display is, indeed, noticeable. It’s subtle, though. You’ll really only notice it as your finger drags across it or when the light hits it the right way. That’s just part of life in the age of the folding phone, so get used to it.

The inner display measures 7.3 inches. Compare that to, say, the iPad Mini’s 7.9. So, small for a tablet, but way too big to stick in your pocket without folding it up. The size of the interior display renders the notch conversation a bit moot. There’s actually a pretty sizable cutout in the upper-right corner for the front-facing camera.

Samsung’s been working with Google and a handful of developers, including WhatsApp and Spotify, to create a decent experience for users at launch. There are two key places this counts: app continuity and multi-app windows. The first lets you open an app on the small screen and pick up where you left off on the big one, once unfolded. The second makes it possible to have three apps open at once — something that’s become standard on tablets in the last couple of years.

Both work pretty seamlessly, though the functionality is limited to those companies that have enabled it. Samsung says it’s an easy addition, but the speed with which developers adopt it will depend largely on the success of these devices. Given that Samsung’s worked hand in hand with Google/Android on this, however, gives the company a big leg up on the competition.

All told, I’m pretty impressed with what amounts to a first-gen product. This thing was a long time in the making, and Samsung clearly wanted to get things right. The company admittedly had some of the wind taken out of its sails when Huawei announced its own folding device a few days later.

That product highlighted some of the Fold’s shortcomings, including the small front-facing screen and somewhat bulky design language. The Fold’s not perfect, but it’s a pretty solid first take at a new smartphone paradigm. And with a starting price of $1,980, it’s got a price to match. You’re essentially paying double for twice the screen.

Samsung, Huawei and the rest of the companies exploring the space know that they’re only going to sell so many of these things in the first go-round at this price point. Everyone’s still exploring aspects like folding mechanisms, essentially making early adopters guinea pigs this time out.

But while the fold doesn’t feel like a phone that’s achieved its final form, it’s a surprisingly well-realized first-generation phone.

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Afterpay unveils BNPL subscription offering for US customers – TechCrunch

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“Buy now, pay later” company Afterpay announced Wednesday that it was going after the $1.5 trillion global subscription payments market by offering to its U.S. customers payment installments for subscriptions, like gym memberships, entertainment subscriptions and online services.

The service will launch in both the U.S. and Australia beginning early in 2022 and will be free for customers who pay on time. IPSY, BoxyCharm, Savage X Fenty and Fabletics are among the initial list of merchants that will offer the feature. The company plans to expand the feature in-store and into other regions later, including Canada, New Zealand, the U.K. and Europe.

In addition to paying for subscriptions in installments, Afterpay is also enabling its offering to be used on preordered items, where users can pay in four installments over time once the item ships. Another feature coming soon will allow merchants to accept deposits on custom items.

“By offering customers the option to pay for subscriptions with Afterpay, we’re not only giving consumers flexibility to pay for more expensive monthly costs, but we’re also helping our merchant partners capture a wider consumer base through this convenient experience,” said Zahir Khoja, general manager of North America for Afterpay, in a written statement.

Klarna, Afterpay’s competitor in the BNPL space, also announced news this week for its U.S. customers that it was offering its “Pay Now” option.

Meanwhile, in August, Square announced that it was buying Afterpay in an all-stock deal valued at $29 billion. Afterpay has also been on a roll with feature debuts recently, launching both Afterpay Ads, a suite of advertising products for brands to engage with shoppers within the ecosystem, and merchant analytics tool Afterpay IQ, in August.

Afterpay works with 100,000 retailers and has approximately 10.5 million active customers in North America as of June 30, up from 5.6 million the year prior. North America is the company’s “largest region in terms of underlying sales,” which grew 145% year over year, or from $4 billion in fiscal year 2020 to $9.8 billion in fiscal year 2021, according to the company.

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Fairphone hits software support longevity akin to Apple’s iPhone – TechCrunch

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Fairphone, the Dutch social enterprise dedicated to making consumer electronics (more) sustainable and ethical, including by supporting repairability so that users can hold onto their hardware for longer, has announced public testing of Android 10 for the six-year-old Fairphone 2.

Owners of the modular handset that was first released back in 2015, running Android 5, should expect to be able to upgrade to Android 10 (released date: 2019) in early 2022, Fairphone said today, announcing the beta rollout of the upgrade.

Fairphone stopped producing (but not supporting) the Fairphone 2 back in 2018 — going on to release the Fairphone 3 (in 2019), the Fairphone 3+ (in 2020, also available as a modular upgrade to the 3) and, earlier this fall, the Fairphone 4, its first 5G handset — which it said would be supported until at least 2025.

Given the Fairphone 2’s impending update to Android 10 next year — which will mean it will have been supported for a total of seven years — 2025 looks like a conservative estimate of how long Fairphone 4 owners should expect to receive software support.

Fairphone says it collaborated with its community of users for the Android 10 upgrade project — and with a software developer in India, Bharath Ravi Prakash, which it says worked as a volunteer open source dev — and by doing that says it was able to streamline the process and shrink the time required to carry out the upgrade.

So while the prior Fairphone 2 OS update (to Android 9) took 18 months, this time the process has been condensed to 10 months.

Google, meanwhile, has gone on to release Android 11 (2020) and Android 12 (last month) — for a sense of how far behind the Fairphone 2 upgrades are trailing the latest OS release.

“The company learned a lot from the Android 9 upgrade and although still complex, Android 10 was more predictable than Android 9,” Fairphone notes in a press release, which also quotes its head of software longevity & IT, Agnes Crepet, who writes: “Our unique approach to software has allowed us to help our users keep their devices for as long as possible. We’re pleased to be able to provide our Fairphone 2 community with yet another software upgrade, reaching our goal to provide at least five years of support from launch for our phones and with the Android 10 upgrade, we’re going beyond that to seven years of support. We are constantly raising the bar for ourselves and the industry, showing that doing things more sustainably in software is possible.”

Seven years’ support puts Fairphone into Apple iPhone software support timespans. But of course the average Android-based handset can expect fair fewer years of software love — typically Android smartphones only get around three years’ support. So it’s a major achievement.

And while Fairphone may only now be catching up to Apple on the software longevity front it is already years ahead of Cupertino in another respect: Hardware sustainability through repairability via modular construction and offering direct-to-consumer spare parts.

Earlier this month Apple announced that, starting next year, it would kick off a “Self Service Repair” program — shipping spare parts and repair tools to iPhone and Mac users to let them perform basic repairs at home.

It’s by no means full modularity from the company that has — historically — loved a hermetically sealed, stupidly thin, often literally glued shut box, but it is a small step in a more sustainable direction. And one that Fairphone has long pioneered.

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Spotify tests a TikTok-like vertical video feed in its app – TechCrunch

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TikTok has seen its short-form video feed copied by a host of competitors, from Instagram to Snap to YouTube and even Netflix. Now it looks like you can add Spotify to that list. The company has confirmed it’s currently testing a new feature in its app, Discover, which presents a vertical feed of music videos that users can scroll through and optionally like or skip. For those who have access to the feature, it appears as a fourth tab in the navigation bar at the bottom of the Spotify app, in between Home and Search.

The new addition was first spotted by Chris Messina, who tweeted out a video of the Discover feature in action. He described it as a “pared-down version” of a TikTok-style feed of music videos.

Messina told us he found the feature in Spotify’s TestFlight build (a beta version for iOS), where a new icon in the navigation toolbar brings you immediately to the video feed when tapped. You can then swipe up and down to move through the feed, much like you would on TikTok. In addition to tapping the heart to like songs, you also can tap the three-dot menu to bring up the standard song information sheet, he notes.

Messina also speculated the feature may be taking advantage of Spotify’s existing Canvas format.

Introduced broadly in 2019, Canvas allows artists to create videos that accompany their music on the Spotify app. The feature had mixed reviews from users, as some reported they preferred to see just the static album art when listening to music and found the video and its looping imagery distracting. But others said they liked it. Canvas, however, appears to drive the engagement metrics that Spotify wants — the company reports that users are more likely to keep streaming, share tracks or save tracks when they see a Canvas.

From the video Messina shared and others we viewed, we can confirm that the videos playing in the vertical feed are the artists’ existing Canvas videos. But Spotify would not confirm this to us directly.

TechCrunch asked Spotify for further information on the feature, including whether it had plans to roll this out further, whether it was available on both iOS and Android, which markets had access to the feature and more. The company declined to share any details about the feature but did confirm, via a statement, it was exploring the idea of a vertical video feed.

“At Spotify, we routinely conduct a number of tests in an effort to improve our user experience,” a spokesperson told TechCrunch. “Some of those tests end up paving the way for our broader user experience and others serve only as an important learning. We don’t have any further news to share at this time,” they added.

In other words, the test is still very early and may not make its way to the public. But if it did, it wouldn’t be a surprising move on Spotify’s part. The company has before looked to popular social media formats to engage its users. In the past, Spotify tested a Stories feature that allowed influencers to post Stories to introduce their own, curated playlists. But that option never became available to all Spotify users.

While the TikTok format has been adopted by top social platforms, including Instagram (Reels), Snapchat (Spotlight), YouTube (Shorts) and Pinterest (Idea Pins), it’s also proving to be an ideal format for content discovery. Netflix, for instance, recently adopted the short-form vertical video feed in its own app with the launch of its “Fast Laughs” feature, which offers clips from its content library and tools to save the programs to a watch list or just start streaming them. Similarly, Spotify’s video-based Discover feature could help introduce users to new music and offer a way to signal their interests to Spotify in a familiar format.

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