Samsung’s next folding phone needs to feel more normal

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Today, Samsung is going to announce a giant pile of new gadgets. Here’s what to expect: Two Note 20 phones, a couple of Tab S7 Android tablets, a new Galaxy Watch, and Galaxy Ear Buds Live. I am on record that Samsung should have the guts to call those earbuds Ear Beans because tech needs to have a little more fun but also look at them.

The event kicks off at 10AM ET and although it’s an online-only affair, we’ll be doing a liveblog with real-time commentary — so you can find it all in one place instead of trawling for takes on Twitter.

If you ‘d rather just get the highlights, here’s a story stream that will have all the big news: Samsung Galaxy Note 20 event: all the latest rumors, news, and more.

When Samsung first announced the event, I wrote in this newsletter that the company needs a certifiable flagship — the kind of device that is the best thing Samsung can make, one that will put a halo on the brand and draw people in to buy the other phones. Of the contenders, I put my money on the Galaxy Z Fold 2.

The leaks in the past week or so have shown that the Note 20 Ultra isn’t going to be a sleeper, though. AT&T just whiffed and put out a video confirming nearly every feature in it. But the Z Fold 2 looks impressive in other ways: the smaller hole punch and the gigantic front screen resolve two of the many issues I had with the first one.

Rumor has it that the Fold 2 may be somewhat delayed (there’s a lot of that going around this fall), however, so we may just get a tease today. Late breaking rumors say we should expect “some real hype shit” about the design.

Something interesting has happened in the world of tech YouTubers and Android writers in the past couple of months: they love the Galaxy Z Flip folding phone. Granted, that’s an audience you’d expect to be into a fancy device like that — but also I think that it’s the only audience that really should be buying a fancy device like that. The people I see using folding phones the most are starting to advocate for them. That doesn’t mean you should get one, but it’s interesting.

If Samsung can make the Z Fold 2 just a little more durable, I think it has a shot at getting a small cadre of dedicated users who love it and advocate for it — something more than the YouTubers and writers, but enough normal users to form a community around the device. That’s not far from what happened with the original Galaxy Note, the phone that was panned as a “phablet” until its size became the new normal.

Every folding phone to date has been too expensive for me to feel comfortable recommending. Unless Samsung absolutely shocks me with the price, I’m sure that the Z Fold 2 will also not be something I think is a good value. Objectively, it’s only fair to expect it to be a thing for the very wealthy (or somewhat foolish).

Tech companies very much want to make folding phones just another option in the smartphone ecosystem. To get there, they need to be approachable not just in terms of price but also in their durability and technology.

It’s going to take a little more than a few devices from Samsung. Microsoft needs to get its Duo out the door (it’s not a folding screen, but it’s a similar idea). Motorola needs to make a Razr that doesn’t creak like a door in a bad horror movie. LG needs to, well, let’s not ask too much of LG right now it’s been a rough half decade.

I’d also like folding phones to become a normal part of the smartphone world, simply because I think diversity of form factors is good and leads to more innovation. One of the reasons the original Fold’s failures were so disappointing is they threatened to poison an otherwise promising new well.

The Z Fold 2 doesn’t need to singlehandedly make folding phones feel mainstream — but it does need to push them in that direction.

The course I’m describing here is one of slowly building momentum. It could fall apart at any moment if the phones themselves fall apart physically. But the Z Flip’s very modest success is something to build on. Here’s what I wrote at the end of that review:

If folding phones are ever going to stop being just expensive curiosities, they have to start being normal. I need to be able to just tell you about the screen and performance and camera, not spend the majority of my time explaining why this time maybe — maybe — the screen and hinge won’t explode. They also, obviously, need to start having much more normal prices.


Apple News

Apple updates the iMac with new Intel processors and a better webcam. I’m pretty bummed that it’s not the new design, but I’m happy to see Apple sees that people want matte — excuse me, nano texture — displays. Hope it makes its way to laptops someday, and hope it won’t be a $500 upgrade when it does.

Greg Joswiak replaces Phil Schiller as head of Apple marketing. This is very big news! If you aren’t familiar with the names (which would be surprising), the thing I’ll note is that you should not assume “marketing” means what it does at other companies, either. It’s the central org for most of the stuff you care about from Apple. Here’s how it’s put in Apple’s press release:

Joswiak takes on the role of senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing. This organization is responsible for Apple’s product management and product marketing, developer relations, market research, business management, as well as education, enterprise, and international marketing.

Apple is not interested in buying TikTok. Busy day for Apple news, honestly.

Google news

Android’s ‘Nearby Share’ file sharing feature is finally launching. Why did it take Google nine years to come up with a viable Android version of AirDrop? It’s ridiculous. If you’re an iPhone user, you probably have taken AirDrop for granted. Now if Google can get the Chrome browser on Windows and Mac to work with this, I’d be very happy. Better not take another nine years!

Nearby Share works very much like Apple’s AirDrop feature for the iPhone: you simply select the Nearby Share button on the share menu and then wait for a nearby phone to appear. Then whatever thing you’re sharing is sent directly over your transfer method of choice to the other phone.

Google Play Music will begin shutting down in September. RIP.jul

Google is adding new homeschooling features to Assistant smart displays and speakers. Most of these features are variations on broadcasting messages to your household. Nice, but also digital interactions can never truly replace the bonds that are formed by wandering around your house yelling your children’s names until they are forced to respond.

EU launches full investigation into Google’s Fitbit acquisition over health data fears.

More from The Verge

Prototype of SpaceX’s future Starship rocket flies short hop to 500 feet. Loren Grush:

The prototype is that of SpaceX’s Starship, a spacecraft the company wants to build to transport people to deep-space worlds like the Moon and Mars. The final version of the spaceship would stand at nearly 400 feet high and 30 feet wide, and be capable of sending more than 100 tons of cargo into low Earth orbit, according to SpaceX.

We can’t skip steps on the road to a COVID-19 vaccine. Clear, cogent explanation of why even in an emergency, rushing through the important third phase of testing isn’t a good idea from Nicole Wetsman:

Sticking with the car metaphor, once a vaccine hits the test track, there’s a chance it’ll stop running (not actually protect people from COVID-19) or, in the worst-case scenario, crash (have some serious side effects). Its first test drives have to be carefully watched, so that the people designing it can monitor exactly what’s happening.

Mulan is heading to Disney Plus on September 4th for $30. On Twitter, Julia Alexander characterized this move as a giant middle finger to the theater industry. No more waiting around and Disney gets to keep literally every penny of revenue from people who watch this. Disney says this is a one-off, but I doubt it.

Cloak your photos with this AI privacy tool to fool facial recognition. James Vincent:

The way the software works is a little complex. Running your photos through Fawkes doesn’t make you invisible to facial recognition exactly. Instead, the software makes subtle changes to your photos so that any algorithm scanning those images in future sees you as a different person altogether. Essentially, running Fawkes on your photos is like adding an invisible mask to your selfies.

The biggest problem with Microsoft’s fractured TikTok deal. Russell Brandom nails it:

Microsoft isn’t bidding for TikTok; it’s bidding for the portion of TikTok in four countries: the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. No one has ever split up a social network along regional lines, much less under threat of a national ban from the president. Peeling those four countries away from the rest of TikTok would be enormously difficult, and even if it were successful, it would leave Microsoft with an undersized and strangely regional social network, presenting significant investment and revenue challenges. Trump, ByteDance, and Microsoft have a lot to hash out over the next six weeks, but if they can’t solve that central problem, then none of it matters. And that central problem is much harder than anyone is willing to admit.

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