Samsung's elusive foldable phone has been in the news for so long, that it's become a bit of a joke at this point. The company has been teasing the device for close to a decade now, giving us short glimpses at prototypes at least once a year at trade shows. The first Samsung foldable display prototypes were shown to the public at CES 2011, and yet, it is only now that the company finally deems the tech ready to deliver a foldable device.
We know that the Galaxy Fold—or whatever it ends up being called—is coming out soon. Samsung recently published an article that explains why, according to the company at least, foldable smartphones are the way to go, hinting that we may see the device as early as the Galaxy S10 'Unpacked' event at the end of February.
But there's a potential problem...
This is what the Samsung Galaxy Fold could actually look like. It still folds, but it doesn't have a flexible display.
Over the years, Samsung has teased us with a foldable device with a, well, flexible display. Even though the prototypes have had obvious quality problems, such as dead pixels and other display issues, which were no doubt caused by the flexible nature of the panels, the last time we saw one of the prototypes, it looked like it was built better. Even under the dim light—which Samsung cleverly used to obfuscate many details about the device—it effortlessly flipped open and closed with ease. No display issues to speak of.
We thought that we were finally going to get this particular phone, but unfortunately, this may not be the case. We know that this is the way to go and Samsung knows as much, but it seems as though the tech is not ready for prime time just yet. Maybe in 2020, or 2021, a full decade after we saw Samsung's flexible display prototypes for the first time. What we'll be getting this year, instead, could be a phone similar to the ZTE Axon M – that is, a dual-screen phone with a clam shell design.
According to a Samsung patent, uncovered by Let's Go Digital, the company could release a phone with two separate screens that sort of come together, but are nonetheless divided by a small gap. The flexible display could be a year or two away, still.
Flexible displays may still be years away
This is the foldable phone of the future, but it may still be years away
"We expect to see a sea change in the smartphone form factor in the coming years. From rollable and stretchable devices to the devices that can fold in multiple ways are no longer beyond the realms of reality. Samsung is ready to usher in this future and create meaningful experiences for consumers that help them do more of what they love," says Senior Vice President and Head of the Visual R&D Team at Samsung's mobile division Hark-sang Kim.
All said and done, however, it seems like dual-screen smartphones could be a sort of a stopgap on the way to the real flexible phone (much like the notch and punch-hole displays are a stopgap on the way to the all-screen phone).
Official teaser for Samsung's upcoming foldable phone. Notice the deliberate seam in the text. The same that we saw in the Galaxy S10 'Unpacked' teaser
Among the biggest hurdles of designing a foldable phone is, well, the way it folds. Old prototypes, even though briefly showcased, were obviously too rigid and unnatural to interact with. The displays were also less than perfect, with prototypes from both Samsung and other companies exhibiting dead pixels and other problems with their screens, due to the panel having to bend in extreme fashions to facilitate for the design.
But that's only part of the struggle. The placements of the battery, cooling system, and camera also had to be rethought for the flexible form factor. Then there's the user interface and user experience, which vary more than you'd imagine when you're dealing with a device that can drastically change the size of its active screen area on the fly.
The foldable form factor would first have to prove itself a viable replacement to what we currently have. Samsung says the phone can withstand "hundreds of thousands of folds," but as with any emerging technology, the first generation is often a testing grounds for new ideas and it is very important how the stage is handled. This can make or break a new format, as we all know.
Disclaimer: The concept images featured in this material are based on official patents and preliminary information about the handset.