Strategy Trumps Sentiment as OEMs Skip Canada for New Feature Launches

Google announced the launch of the Pixel Fold device at the Google I/O developer conference on May 10. The device features a 5.8” display when closed and a 7.6” OLED display, powered by the Google Tensor G2 chip, when opened. Google is calling the device the ‘multi-tasking master’. As the I/O developer conference left viewers with an excited buzz about a second viable player in the foldable smartphone space, Canadians were once again left in the cold. The device will be launched in the US, UK, Germany and Japan, with no indication yet of further expansion, though there are rumors of the device reaching other markets later in the year. Sounds familiar? In 2019, Samsung launched its first foldable device, the Galaxy Fold, and yes, Canada was not on the list of lucky markets to receive the device.

Although it feels like Canada is once again put on the sidelines of the tech innovation fun, it is the OEMs’ strategic planning that is behind the decision to leave a mature smartphone market like Canada out of the new launch mix. The Canadian smartphone market can be summed up in two words – small and stable. Canada’s population is now 38 million, less than the population of California. This restricts the reach that companies can use to get substantial feedback for a new smartphone in the market. The country does have stable growth due to immigration, students, and work visas that cause a steady flow into the smartphone market, but this demographic is not looking to spend CA$2,000 as soon as they begin to settle in. The UK, whose population is double that of Canada, sold 50% more foldable devices than Canada in Q1 2023.

US, UK and Canada Foldable Sales Chart

Source: Counterpoint Technology Market Research

Along with the issue of a small population, the Canadian market is not a good ground to test a device due to the retail channels and additional costs. Without a few iterations of a device to prove the durability, the trends of foldables in Canada are not as strong as in other regions. With a small population and macroeconomic headwinds weakening the Canadian dollar, the market retails devices at comparatively higher prices. This in turn has resulted in a longer holding period for devices to avoid upgrade costs for a new device. And when a device has a hardware change like a hinge that can evoke doubts over its durability, Canadians are left hesitant on shelling out the cost.

Samsung had already considered these problems in 2019. The Galaxy Z Fold was released in South Korea on September 2019, seven months after the February 2019 announcement. The limited release in Canada started in December 2019, after there was much chaos over the hinge’s durability that already had Canadians clutching their wallets with concern. After Samsung also overcame carrier certifications, marketing costs and other hoops to put a new device in the Canada market, the Galaxy Z 2 series had a smoother launch in September 2020. It was not only launched in Canada but also made available exclusively through Bell.

Along with dealing with the uncertainty over new hardware, Google also needs to partner with Canadian carriers to achieve the greatest reach in the population and make the device affordable through trade-in offers, bundle plan discounts or device-return leasing options that Canadian carriers often push.

Due to its small population, high data costs and closing of ranks between carriers, Canada is not a feasible market for OEMs to launch a ‘test’ device. One perk that Canadians can look forward to is that once these devices do reach the market, often the bugs are worked out and the user experience has already been enhanced due to initial feedback from other countries.