Foldable smartphone

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A foldable smartphone is a form factor of smartphone, which allows access to a larger tablet-like display or a phablet when needed by unfolding the device, whilst maintaining a similar footprint and functionality to a standard smartphone when folded (typically along a vertical axis). The screen may either wrap around to the back of the device when folded (as with the Royole Flexpai and Huawei Mate X), or use a booklet-like design where the larger, folded screen is located on the interior, and a screen on its "cover" allows the user to interact with the device without opening it (such as the Samsung Galaxy Fold).

Precursors to the concept have used multiple touchscreen panels on a hinge in a similar manner, but the term is currently synonymous with implementations that utilize a flexible display; concepts of such devices date back as early as Nokia's "Morph" concept (2008), and a concept presented by Samsung Electronics in 2013 (as part of a larger set of concepts utilizing flexible OLED displays), while the first commercially-available folding smartphones with OLED displays began to emerge in November 2018.

History[edit]

In 2006, Polymer Vision showed a roll-able concept and a foldable smartphone, the Readius, at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) which also serves as a reader.[1][2][3]

In 2008, Nokia presented animated concepts of a flexible device it dubbed "Morph", which had a tri-fold design that could be bended into various forms, such as a large unfolded device, a feature phone-sized unit, and a smart wristband. In a 2019 retrospective on the concept, CNET noted that Morph could be considered a forerunner to the first wave of commercially-produced folding phones, as well as a showcase of future possibilities.[4]

In 2011, Kyocera released a dual-touchscreen Android smartphone known as the Echo, which featured a pair of 3.5-inch touchscreens. When folded, the top screen continued to face the user while covering the secondary screen. Two individual apps could be shown on the displays, a single app could span across them, while specific apps also featured "optimized" two-pane layouts.[5][6] Two years later, NEC released the Medias W in Japan. Unlike the Echo, the secondary screen could be folded behind the phone. The camera rotated with the screen so that the same sensor could face both forward and rear [7] In 2017, ZTE released the Axon M with a similar hinge to the Medias W. ZTE stated that the more powerful hardware of modern smartphones, and improvements to multitasking and tablet support on Android, helped to improve this experience.[8]

The development of thin, flexible OLED displays enabled the possibility for new designs and form factors. During its Consumer Electronics Show keynote in 2013, Samsung presented several concepts—codenamed Youm—for smartphones incorporating flexible displays. One such concept was a smartphone that could fold outward into a single, uninterrupted tablet-sized display. The first Youm concept to make it to a production model—the Galaxy Note Edge—was a device with a portion of the screen that sloped over the right-hand bezel.[9][10][11][12]

Speculation surrounding the development of folding phones using OLED displays began to emerge more rapidly in 2018. In January 2018, it was reported that LG Electronics had obtained a design patent for a folding smartphone.[13] Later in June, it was reported that Microsoft had been developing a similar device as part of its Surface line, codenamed "Andromeda" (itself a spiritual successor to a dual-screen booklet tablet prototype Microsoft had been exploring in the late-2000's known as Courier),[14][15] while Samsung was also said to be developing such a device. [16]

In November 2018, the Chinese startup Royole released the first commercially-available foldable smartphone with an OLED display, the Royole Flexpai. It featured a single 7.8-inch display that folds outwards, leaving the display exposed when folded.[17] Later that month at its developers' conference, Samsung officially teased a prototype of its folding smartphone, which would be produced "in the coming months". The prototype used a booklet-style layout, with an "InfinityFlex" display located on the inside of the device, and a smaller "cover" screen on the front of the device to allow access when the screen is closed.[18] At a concurrent developers' summit, Android VP of engineering Dave Burke stated that the next version of the platform would provide enhancements and guidance relevant to folding devices, leveraging existing features.[19]

In January 2019, Xiaomi CEO Lin Bin published a video on Sina Weibo, featuring him demonstrating a prototype smartphone with two flaps capable of being folded inward.[20] Samsung officially unveiled the Galaxy Fold during its media event at Mobile World Congress in February 2019.[21] Alongside the Galaxy Fold, the convention also saw other foldable phones being unveiled or teased, such as the Huawei Mate X,[22] and TCL presenting various prototype concepts featuring its "DragonHinge" technology (including a braclet-styled device).[23] LG did not unveil a folding device, citing a desire to focus more on re-gaining market share in the smartphone market. It did, however, unveil a "Dual Screen" case accessory for its LG V50 smartphone—a folio-styled case containing a secondary display panel inside.[24]

Other companies have publicly expressed interest in the concept, or have received patents on designs (such as hinge implementations and overall designs) relating to foldable phones. Motorola Mobility announced plans to produce a horizontal folding smartphone reminiscent of clamshell feature phones.[25][26][27][28]

In April 2019, the impending launch of the Samsung Galaxy Fold was met with quality concerns from critics, after widespread reports of review units experiencing varying forms of display failure (in some instances caused by accidental removal of a plastic layer meant to protect the screen in lieu of glass, along with other failures). Samsung indefinitely postponed the device's release, stating that it needed time to investigate the failures, and improve the device's durability.[29][30] Huawei also delayed its Mate X, with the company citing its desire to take a "cautious" approach due to the Galaxy Fold.[31][32]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Lim, Andrew (2007-03-08). "Photos: Polymer Vision's Readius with rollable display". CNET. Retrieved 2019-04-23.
  2. ^ Polymer Vision Video of READIUS
  3. ^ Readius demo at MWC 2008
  4. ^ Hiner, Jason. "If the foldable phones of the future look like this, count me in". CNET. Retrieved 2019-04-22.
  5. ^ "ZTE's dual-screen Axon M is fascinating and flawed". Engadget.
  6. ^ Kaser, Rachel (17 October 2017). "ZTE actually built a folding phone that looks legit". The Next Web.
  7. ^ https://www.engadget.com/2013/02/25/nec-medias-m-hands-on/
  8. ^ Seifert, Dan (2017-10-17). "ZTE's Axon M has two screens and a hinge". The Verge. Retrieved 2019-04-22.
  9. ^ "The Galaxy Note Edge: Samsung's first smartphone with a bent display". Engadget. Retrieved 7 January 2015.
  10. ^ D'Orazio, Dante (2013-01-09). "Samsung shows off flexible OLED phone prototype (hands-on)". The Verge. Retrieved 2019-04-22.
  11. ^ Blagdon, Jeff (2013-01-09). "Samsung shows off curved phone prototype using flexible display". The Verge. Retrieved 2019-04-22.
  12. ^ Ghoshal, Abhimanyu (4 September 2018). "Samsung's making a foldable phone so we can all stop sharing this shitty screengrab". The Next Web.
  13. ^ Ong, Thuy (2018-01-19). "LG patents a folding phone that morphs into a tablet". The Verge. Retrieved 2019-04-22.
  14. ^ Greene, Jay. "The inside story of how Microsoft killed its Courier tablet". CNET. Retrieved 2019-04-22.
  15. ^ Warren, Tom (2018-06-29). "Microsoft details secret 'pocketable' Surface device in leaked email". The Verge. Retrieved 2019-04-22.
  16. ^ Orphanides, K. G. (2018-09-04). "Samsung is making a folding phone... but how will it work?". Wired UK. ISSN 1357-0978. Retrieved 2019-04-22.
  17. ^ Statt, Nick (2018-11-05). "We tried the world's first folding phone, and it actually works". The Verge. Retrieved 2019-04-22.
  18. ^ Tibken, Shara. "Samsung's foldable phone is real and opens into a tablet". CNET.
  19. ^ Bohn, Dieter (2018-11-07). "Google says Android will natively support "foldables" to limit fragmentation". The Verge. Retrieved 2019-04-22.
  20. ^ Warren, Tom (2019-01-23). "Xiaomi's folding phone is the best we've seen so far". The Verge. Retrieved 2019-04-22.
  21. ^ Dunn, Jeff (2019-02-20). "Samsung's foldable phone is finally official—meet the Galaxy Fold". Ars Technica. Retrieved 2019-02-23.
  22. ^ Savov, Vlad (24 February 2019). "Huawei's Mate X foldable phone is a thinner 5G rival to the Galaxy Fold". The Verge.
  23. ^ Savov, Vlad (2019-02-24). "TCL's foldable phone prototype is untouchable for now". The Verge. Retrieved 2019-04-22.
  24. ^ Savov, Vlad (2019-02-24). "LG's answer to the foldable mania is a second screen". The Verge. Retrieved 2019-04-22.
  25. ^ "Possible RAZR drawings spotted in latest Motorola hardware patent". GSMArena.com.
  26. ^ La, Lynn. "Galaxy Fold is just the beginning. There are a bunch of foldable phones coming our way". CNET.
  27. ^ "Here's our first look at the new Motorola RAZR 2019". GSMArena.com.
  28. ^ Dolcourt, Jessica. "Future phones could bend and fold like this". CNET.
  29. ^ Welch, Chris (22 April 2019). "Samsung delays Galaxy Fold indefinitely: "We will take measures to strengthen the display"". The Verge. Retrieved 22 April 2019.
  30. ^ Martin, Timothy W. (2019-04-22). "Samsung's Galaxy Fold Smartphone Release Delayed". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved 2019-04-22.
  31. ^ Byford, Sam (2019-08-15). "Huawei delays Mate X launch beyond September". The Verge. Retrieved 2019-08-15.
  32. ^ Vincent, James (2019-06-14). "Huawei delays launch of foldable Mate X, blames Samsung not Trump". The Verge. Retrieved 2019-08-15.