Samsung’s top manager Justin Denison had a thankless task on Wednesday in San Francisco: he had to announce a technological revolution at the company’s developer conference without actually being able to show it. This revolution is said to be the foldable phone.
The day before, Samsung had caused its industry and many technology fans to be moderately upset. The group redesigned its Facebook profile picture in such a way that the “Galaxy” lettering folded inwards in three dimensions. A not-so-subtle hint of upcoming foldable mobile device news.
There was already a foldable cell phone: StarTac or RAZR were the names of the models from the manufacturer Motorola, for example, which helped shape the cell phone market in the late 90s and early 2000s. However, at that time a hinge separated the keyboard and display from each other. The display was folded onto the keyboard. But physical keyboards are a thing of the past, today the front of a smartphone consists entirely of a screen: instead of folding two physically separate parts, a folding device today has to be foldable as a whole. This is the challenge facing Samsung and other manufacturers who want to make today’s smartphone flexible.
From folding to folding
The technical difficulties for display manufacturers are considerable: The preferred glass for covering the screen fails due to a lack of flexibility. In addition, the material has to withstand many thousands of folds without the quality deteriorating. Samsung has solved the problem with its “Infinity Flex” display with a newly developed polymer composite material. According to Samsung, the adhesive that holds the OLED and polymer together also had to be invented first.
Accordingly, the expectations of the tech audience were high on Wednesday. However, the information presented at the conference should only have led a few to storm of enthusiasm: Yes, Samsung will produce a foldable phone (no news), the technology will soon be ready for the market according to Samsung (hardly news) and the newly developed display no longer has a glass cover ( no surprise). But the crucial question is: How practical is such a smartphone?
Google wants to support app development
The guests present did get a brief glimpse of the device, but the room was completely darkened. The prototype was apparently completely encased in an unadorned case so as not to give the competition any clues as to the final design. So all you saw was a man flipping open a lit screen, which doubled in area and still worked. The effect was amazing – but will it catch on?
The most important news about the foldable Samsung phone was delivered by a surprise guest. After Samsung manager Denison, Google’s Android UX boss Glen Murphy entered the stage. He announced that Google will fully support the development of the operating system necessary for the phone. Samsung and Google will soon provide interested app developers with an emulator that simulates the display layout of the new device.
Square: practically good?
For developers, the task is anything but trivial. You have to build apps that not only adapt their interface when the screen area doubles spontaneously, but also offer the user additional meaningful options. This is also tricky because an unfolded smartphone display turns into an almost square tablet – a previously unusual format. This may be pleasant for reading, but videos, for example, hardly increase in size.
Whether Samsung will stir up the smartphone market with its new product and whether its eternal competitor Apple can become dangerous with a technological quantum leap will therefore also depend on the ingenuity of the developers. According to Denison, it will still be a few months before a Samsung folding product is ready for the market, and there could be a product presentation at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
The first hands-on folding smartphone of the new generation will probably have been on the market for some time, at least in China. A few days ago, the Chinese manufacturer Royole presented a folding phone, the first models of which are to be delivered in December. Huawei, LG, Microsoft and Apple have also applied for patents in recent years that point to the development of foldable devices.