As a reader of this blog, where you’ll often come across articles focused on cutting-edge technology, you’re most probably someone who owns a smartphone. But what does it look like?
Whichever brand your phone is, we can safely guess that we’re talking about a piece of black tempered glass encased in a plastic rectangle. After all, technology as conceptually exciting as a combination of computer, camera, and telephone small enough to fit into your pocket has all too quickly resulted in a standardized design.
But that might soon change. You see, innovators are devising a new kind of smartphone, one that may well constitute a category unto itself.
Introducing the...foldable smartphone.
Fold it like a cellphone
The idea of a foldable handheld device is not itself of recent vintage – at least in popular culture. Science fiction enthusiasts will recall the foldable tablets used by employees of the Delos corporation to control the robotic hosts populating the futuristic theme park setting of HBO’s Westworld. Tech companies also like to indulge in what is known as “design fiction,” examples of which have included foldable phones.
Samsung is one of the companies in the process of ushering such a phone into the real world. Its employees have made use of “Infinity Flex Display,” technology that allows for the creation of “a compact smartphone that unfolds to reveal a larger immersive display for multitasking and viewing content.”
At Samsung’s recent Developer Conference, a prototype was bandied about on stage. It looks a mite unwieldy, but appears to work. The prototype consists of two displays: a folding 7.3-inch display on the inside, and a smaller 4.58-inch “cover display” on the outside. The user can almost effortlessly shift between the large and small displays. How? Just fold the device, naturally. Samsung says this foldable phone will hit the market as early as next year, with the grand unveiling likely to take place at Mobile World Conference, the world’s largest exhibition for the mobile industry.
How does it work?
Well, Samsung is unwilling to spill the beans just yet, but the secret sauce is surely the technology known as organic light-emitting diode, or OLED. In brief, OLED consists of a film of organic compound able to generate light in reaction to an electric current. Providing the current is a pair of electrodes, with the conductor generally made of a transparent material, of which the most popular option is indium tin oxide (ITO).
However, ITO poses a problem when it comes to the creation of a flexible display; while the organic film can technically assume any shape, ITO does not take well to bending, and suffers in performance when subjected to such physical pressure. For this reason, Samsung will presumably experiment with different conductors.
Of course, a smartphone display requires additional components, including the optical connective adhesive that provides touch capabilities, and a cover to protect the delicate display. All in all, we’re talking about a rather complicated piece of technology. Expensive, too; media speculation is that the finished product will have the astronomic price tag of $1,770.
The software behind foldable phones is a simpler matter. The same Samsung Developer Conference saw Google announce “Foldables” for the Android operating system. Google says the Foldables feature will boost “screen continuity,” the API (Application Programming Interface) apps use in case of screen size change. If so, we can expect to see it crop up in all manner of devices and apps sooner rather later.
Samsung and Google are hardly the only companies working on a foldable phone; they’re just arguably the biggest and loudest! A little-known Chinese outfit named Royole has brought out the FlexPai, a foldable phone featuring a “2nd generation fully flexible display.” It’s now available for pre-order.
Intel is also working on such a device, as a recent article in The Verge details, while rumors persist that Microsoft remains committed to the Courier, a “digital journal” that began to generate a fair amount of buzz back in 2009 – but never saw the light of day. The Courier was officially canceled in 2010, but certain unnamed industry sources insist that Microsoft continues to tinker with it on the sly, all the while referring to the project to by the codename “Andromeda.”
No more bulky cellphones?
Well, prepare for the next development in its evolution. The foldable version of the cellular phone has departed the realm of the fantastical and may soon land in your pocket.
How does this strike you? Are you interested in owning such a device? Do let us know!