How foldable displays will change smartphones forever

Foldable displays bring with them endless possibilities that would plunge smartphone truly into the future.

 |  5-minute read |   30-09-2017
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Earlier in September when Apple announced the iPhone X, it introduced it as the "phone of the future", one that would chart a path for the smartphone industry to follow for the next decade. The device for what it's worth comes with interesting features, but none – including Apple's take on facial recognition, FaceID – can truly be called revolutionary.

However, things look to be going from bad to worse for this former maverick of the tech industry, as South Korean tech giant, Samsung, which over the years has been accused of copying features and design elements from the iPhone lineup is looking all set to come out with a revolutionary feature that the Apple will have to bring onboard the future iPhones.

If reports are to be believed, Samsung's next high-end flagship device, the Galaxy X, will come with a foldable display that would make it more of a contender to be called the phone of the future than the iPhone X. What's more, the news of this smartphone with a foldable display is not even the result of the idle churnings of the rumour mill, but rather emanates from the information shared by none other than Samsung mobile's chief, DJ Koh.

Koh had recently revealed that Samsung's long rumoured foldable display device could see the light of the day sometime in 2018. If and when this phone finally arrives, it would mark a day when the smartphone industry is truly plunged into the future. By successfully implementing foldable OLED display on phones, Samsung would mainstream a technology that could very well define the next decade of smartphone technology – much like the multi-touch display on the original iPhone did in 2007. 

Though other manufacturers have also tried their hands on the technology, with Lenovo even showing off a prototype last year, its Samsung's rumoured implementation of the bendable display that for now at least looks to be head and shoulders above the rest.

Being one of the first players to try its hands at bendable displays – Samsung showed off its first prototype in 2011 – the tech giant has shown multiple concept videos of foldable mobile devices, that could fold out from a phone-sized screen to a tablet-sized one. 


Why should you be excited?

The simple answer to this lies in the endless possibilities that foldable display brings with it. To the uninitiated, the idea of a foldable phone may sound like the latest gimmick from smartphone makers, but in reality, it's anything but that. Unlike the squeezable frame of the HTC U11, foldable displays could actually serve a great purpose in solving major design bottlenecks that modern day smartphones face. 

A case in point is Lenovo's CPlus – a concept phone that can be wrapped around the user's wrist like a slap bracelet. No denying that it looks cool and is built to wow, but what it also does is provide a viable alternative to smartwatches. By being slapped on the user's wrist, the device instantly becomes a smartwatch, one that has more power and functionality than any smartwatch or fitness band available in the market right now. 

Then there's Samsung's foldable phone prototype on the other end which was shown off as early as 2013 – and is expected to be the design that the Galaxy X comes with. The prototype device looks as futuristic as the CPlus concept, but at the same time also provides a solution to the problem that carrying around an 8-9 inch tablet throws up. This prototype design shows off a phone that can be closed like a book when not in use, thus turning it into a device that can easily fit in the users pocket. 

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Once phones with foldable displays become reality, they would enable designers and scientists to push the boundaries of their imagination in ways they couldn't even dream of while making rigid slabs crafted out of glass and metal. Phones that can fold will bring to users devices that are smaller and more portable to carry around.

For example, another design that Samsung is working on involves using a foldable OLED display sheet where the phone could roll up and unroll like a scroll. This would make the phone extremely convenient to carry while also making it as big – or possibly even larger – than a tablet in size. 

Interesting, isn't it?

When will the foldable display revolution takeover

Well, like I've mentioned before, smartphone manufacturers have been working on these designs for years now, and from what it looks like more work would needs to be put in to perfect this futuristic technology. However, from what it appears it won't take these tech giants much time to do that. 

Nearing the end of 2017, foldable displays look all but set to make their entry into the market, but certain factors – design bottlenecks and business environment prevailing in the smartphone industry – have constantly pushed back these new age devices from taking over the smartphone market.Considering this radical design shift would require a sea change in the way phones are made today, and with rectangular slabs made out of glass and metal still doing great business, the industry really has no pressing need to plunge itself towards a future that is exciting, yet filled with uncertainty.

Then there are also design issues which arise out of trying to fit rigid hardware – battery, circuit boards antenna etc – inside a phone adorned by a foldable display on the outside. However, these should only be temporary roadblocks that the smartphone manufacturers are expected to overcome once they truly take up to this new and innovative technology.

With the Galaxy X hopefully making its way to the market in 2018, Samsung will force the hand of other manufacturers who will have to follow with not just bumping paper specs, but more importantly innovation to win over the consumer, thus starting a smartphone revolution which was last seen only in 2007 when the first iPhone changed our lives forever. 

Also read: PM Modi follows Twitter accounts who think Gauri Lankesh deserved to die


Sushant Talwar Sushant Talwar @sushanttalwar

Tech journalist, DailyO

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