Samsung: Foldable Future in the Work
Samsung Infinity Flex Display
First thing first: Samsung unveiled a display technology, not a new product line, at the developer conference. So don’t expect to have any detail on a new flagship phone anytime soon.
The demo device can be folded out into a tablet and back up into a classical smartphone. In its tablet form, the demo device holds a 7.3" display and up to 3 apps will be able to run simultaneously. There’s no price tag nor schedule of release for phones with Infinity Flex Display. But Samsung says it will start mass production of the “display” in a “matter of months.”
Google’s Android Native Support
No smart device could be functional without software support. Apparently, Google and Samsung has been working closely on supporting this new form factor.
At Android Developer Summit, Google announced that Android will offer official native support to “Foldables.” Google revealed that it has been working with Samsung on how Android will operate on foldables. Clearly, Google is trying to offer a platform-level solution to prevent further Android fragmentation. For now, the support is mostly just guidance for developers to start using existing features, such as “screen continuity” (the API that Android apps has employed to know when the screen size has changed), but some more fundamental enhancement might be coming in next iteration of Android updates (at say, Google I/O in 2019).
With Google announcing its native support on foldables, other device makers can now start rolling out their products. While I believe that Samsung will likely dominate the foldable display in the near future, it won’t be limiting the supply to itself. Here are some other efforts on foldables:
Huawei was rumored to reveal a foldable phone ahead of Samsung, according to Nikkei. However, Huawei only confirmed their plan of releasing 5G smartphone with a foldable screen in mid-2019 at the World Economic Forum in September.
Back in 2016, LG announced that it has invested $1.7 billion to produce flexible OLED smartphone display. At that time, LG demonstrated a 18" rollable display panel at CES 2016. Since then, LG introduced a 65" 4K rollable display at CES 2018, but didn’t talk much about foldable smartphone display. With LG’s smartphone fading rapidly, I believe LG is trying to make foldable smartphone display for Apple. It would be mutually beneficial that Apple can shake off its dependence on Samsung for its OLED display and LG could find a steady outlet for its display expansion. As for rollable display…I find it a tough sell as it lacks clear target audience.
For years, Microsoft has been linked with new mobile devices. One of the most prominent rumors was project “Courier.” It was a mysterious device that never made it to the customer. The leaked concept says Courier is a digital journal that combines two screens to fold over like a book, with a stylus for taking notes.
Even though Courier is likely dead, Microsoft didn’t give up on this multi-screen concept. According to The Verge, Microsoft moved on with a new “pocketable” Surface device (which some people have took the concept as a Surface phone), codenamed Andromeda. In October 2018, head of Surface called the mysterious pocketable Surface device “it’s absolutely my babd.”
Just like Microsoft’s rumored Courier, Intel has a dual-screen product codenamed “Copper Harbor” that acts as a full PC. PCWorld has some in-depth report on this device. The problem is: Intel has come up with some neat ideas in the past, but coming to commercializing these products, Intel has done nothing but failure. In addition, without Microsoft’s dual-screen native support, Intel’s efforts will never bear fruit as Copper Harbor provides users with an awkward split-Window experience.
Almost every major device makers (other than Apple) have some sort of multi-screen or rollable/foldable concepts demonstrated at major events, such as CES or IFA. All of them remained concept design without actual product launches. Lenovo’s Motorola, Xioami, Oppo, Vivo or even some relatively unknown company like Royole have all talked about something within this product category. Without a supply chain or scale backing their concept, they will likely only be followers.
Right now, we have no clear idea when and how much foldable devices would cost. Judging from Huawei’s announcement, it’s safe to assume Samsung might announce a foldable device alongside its S10 smartphones at 2019’s unpacked events. Google will likely announce support to foldable display in Android Q and other phone makers would push out their foldable products in 4Q19. Foldable is here, folks! And this will likely be the biggest disruption to this relatively mature smartphone market since 4G.