Last week, two firms introduced foldable phones. The introduced gadgets were not clamshell devices such as the classic Motorola Razr, or the forgotten ZTE Axon M which was well known for its hinged two-screen.
These new devices – the unnamed concept that Samsung and China’s Royal FlexPai boasted off – features a screen that easily bend like a sheet of paper. Users have been waiting for foldable smartphones for a long time, and they are not just stunts. For the next great mobile frontier, these phones are just but glimpses.
As futuristic as users may view a flexible display, actually, this is not the hard part. Over a decade now, in most of the research labs worldwide, displays have been bent and contorted into all types of shapes that you can imagine off. But what we are witnessing currently is just a union of smartphone arm race that has stalled out, and in a clever way advances in all of the other components that enable those yogic display to function as expected in a consumer product.
Bent out of shape
Before getting into the technical solutions that makes a smartphone to be a foldable one, it is good to start with the reason as to why one would need such a phone in the first place.
Samsung clearly explained about this on Wednesday at its annual developer conference. “when the device is open, it is a tablet offering a big-screen experience and when it is closed, it is a phone that neatly fits inside the user’s pocket”, explained Justin Denison, Samsung’s SVP of Mobile product marketing.
That dichotomy is not just potentially useful for user’s daily commute. In the current world in which upgrade models are largely driven by size – iPhone XS Max – Samsung together with its main competitors also have no place to go.
According to Chris Harrison, an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s Human Computer Interaction Institute, most manufactures ran out of runway on interesting ideas for making new smartphones, therefore the competition is now about the screen size.
“Pretty much, the only way to get more screen real estate is by moving to the back of the display, or to switch to some foldable stuff”, added Harrison.
This technology is very enticing: You fold you smartphone to keep it in a single-screen mode on the way to the subway just to check in on twitter or to log into your Facebook account or any other social media site, then unfold it to tablet size with a larger display once you are on the train to read online newspaper.
Know When to Fold Them
Long before this technology, most people were concerned about folding phones, battery life and the expenses on phone. These concerns have not gone away. In fact, you can add to them potential new woes characteristic in the flexible form feature.
“By folding something over and over again on the same seam, where you are introducing stresses by bending, eventually, the introduced stresses may lead to some sort of failure”, explained Harrison. “There exist no way of getting around the physics.”
Currently, there is also no way to get around the unfortunate actuality that the foldable screen on the smartphone will have much less protection than what the customers are used to. This Samsung’s foldable display named as Infinity Flex Display has to settle for a polymer rather than a glass which can bent more than expected, but remains unideal for folding.
According to Samsung, the material have the capability of holding up to hundreds of thousands of openings and closings. But even if we assume that this is practically true, do not be surprised if the display lacks other forms of flexibility.