During IFA 2022, we were able to talk with Yoojin Hong, Samsung’s UX manager, about the design and interface of the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold and Flip. We learned how much the concern for not rushing users influenced the development of their products.
Why do the objects around us look like what they look like? What decisions presided over this or that choice of design that today is a consensus? While for many devices this story is already well documented, folding smartphones being still young – the first Samsung Galaxy Fold dates back to 2019 – many of the decisions made behind the scenes are still unknown.
We can now see a little more clearly thanks to our meeting at IFA 2022 with Yoojin Hong, vice-president of the Korean group at the head of the UX department. The design specialist shared the various choices that led to the Galaxy Z Flip 4 and Z Fold 4 as we know them today during a roundtable made up of various international media, including Frandroid. She was able to enlighten us on the why and how of the two new ranges of the Korean giant.
A single target: basic users
Forget the completely crazy products that are completely off the beaten path. Samsung doesn’t want it. Yoojin Hong has repeatedly reiterated that the core of Samsung’s philosophy is to address basic users. And we can’t imagine how much this approach has guided all their thinking, since the prototypes of Fold in 2014.
” The The kind of reaction we wanted to get from the first Fold was very clear: ‘wow, it’s new, but familiar enough that I can use it straight away’. As this is a new product category, many people will be waiting for a drastic change, but for us, keeping the transition completely seamless is paramount. »
Not a tablet, but a phone
With this in mind, Samsung engineers targeted two essential needs of these users: “I want an ever bigger screen and I also want a smaller phone. » An impossible equation, except to fold the phone, hence the idea of Fold, we understood it well. But the idea of an ever larger screen posed an inherent difficulty in itself. How do we manage so that the average user, not necessarily very aware of the latest releases, when he passes in front of a Fold immediately knows that it is a phone and not a tablet? This was a key issue at the start of the project. One of the answers to this problem is in the outer screen. Its mere presence already helps the phone look like… a phone indeed.
Then, if the secondary panel is often singled out for its narrowness, Samsung completely assumes this choice. “We didn’t make the Fold’s exterior screen wider, because otherwise the average user would think: it’s not a phone, it’s a PDA or a tablet. », tells us the vice-president. Again, we see Samsung’s obsession with being well understood. Moreover, for the record, the Seoul firm once considered integrating an exterior screen which did not extend over the entire length, but left a small black band from top to bottom on one of the sides. But it soon became apparent that it was ” weird “ and “unnatural”.
For all of Samsung’s design choices on its Fold, the same goes: the low-tech user determines everything. Take the S Pen for example. If it is not directly integrated into the chassis as on the Galaxy S22 Ultra, it is also entirely intentional and not so much linked to a technical difficulty, we are assured. “It’s not something most users want. Those who want to equip themselves with it can and they can carry it everywhere with a shell. Also, the trade-off seemed too big to us, we preferred to focus on basic users,” once more. Translation: the day when mainstream smartphone users want a stylus in a Fold, then the Fold will have a stylus built into its chassis.
Taskbar success surprised Samsung
Always with a view to not losing the average user, the team in charge of Samsung’s interface questioned a lot about the interface of the internal screen, in particular by working with Google which imposed the exit one phone per year. To avoid at all costs that its interface looks too much like that of a tablet, Samsung has decided not to automatically integrate innovative features such as the possibility of separating the interface into two parts in the menus, or even adding of a taskbar.
But soon, the Suwon firm noticed a strange phenomenon. From the first Fold, 20% of users switched the phone to tablet mode, then 40% on the Fold 2. Figures well above normal. “In general, people don’t go looking for these types of features on their own. » So for the Fold 3, Samsung thought “the market is ready” and switched the internal screen to office tablet mode. Only 8% of users disabled the option. This success led the Korean firm to take the plunge for the taskbar from the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4.
Another interesting detail on the internal screen: the Flex mode germinated very early in the minds of its engineers. The trigger is interesting to say the least. They quickly realized that it was not possible to open the Fold carelessly as we did with the old clamshell smartphones, due to the heaviness of the device in particular. So the firm decided to assume this and offer features that take advantage of the device’s fairly rigid hinge. The Flex mode was born with the success that we know of.
For the Flip: put everything on the design
Let’s move on to the Flip, the Fold’s little brother, which basically consists of folding a phone in half. For him, the philosophy was very different. “From the start, our top priority was industrial design”explains Yoojin Hong. “Do it nice, do it nice, do it nice”, they said internally. It’s specifically for this reason that on the first generation, the Flip didn’t immediately embrace the idea of an actually usable external display, which might have made the first version less pleasing to the eye.
In the second generation, Samsung figured out how to make the smartphone flatter, more square, more slicked back. This better mastery of the format, as we know, paved the way for a larger screen. Again, surprise, the average usage time of users has dropped considerably thanks to this small screen: 4.3 hours in Korea on the Flip 3, against 5 on the S21 and 4.7 on the Fold; in the United States, we go from 4 hours on average on the Fold and 4.7 hours on the S21 to 3.4 on the Flip 3. Never mind, for the Z Flip 4, Samsung has therefore decided to push the use of the external screen even further by offering more interactions with it to better respond to this use: new widgets or even the possibility of making calls without opening the phone.
Why so few changes?
We wrote an article when the two phones were released to explain why the new models offered so few changes compared to their predecessors. Yoojin Hong provided some grist for our mill on this topic.
The vice-president explains to us how intentional this choice is. “We did the same with the watches which haven’t changed much in screen size and design since the Galaxy Watch Active 2.” If for folders, there may still be some improvements at the margin, the reason why they do not change radically from one model to another is simple: Samsung wants to keep an ecosystem stable enough to allow developers to work on a serene base. ” We work carefully not to change our products too drastically. That’s why if you put all the Folds side by side, they end up looking a lot alike”argues the expert.
As for the question of a larger exterior screen for the Flip on future models, the official considers that“for now, we think the size is sufficient. You have to understand that a smartphone is a puzzle. As soon as you change one parameter, there are many others to take into account: industrial design, battery, etc. »
As you will have understood, if Samsung is undoubtedly one of the most advanced brands in terms of innovation in the world of smartphones, everything leads it to move forward quietly, even gropingly. The lack of competition must help, of course, but Yoojin Hong’s demonstration tends to prove one thing: the main concern of the group is not to shake things up too much. Neither their users, nor the developers working on their ecosystem, nor their production chains. All this little world justifies iterative updates, until the market one day calls for more radical changes, and never in the opposite direction where Samsung would propose a design revolution all alone in its corner, without ensuring first to be well received. Does this perhaps remind you of another little-known smartphone brand that has just presented its iPhone 14?
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