Phone flip, we hardly knew you.
Samsung Electronics on Wednesday offered a look at a future phone that unfolds like a book to reveal a 7.3-inch screen inside. Flip flip-size part, tablet part, is the most interesting idea I've seen in smartphone design for years.
You have to see it to believe – and unfortunately we just have a tease. We think of a smartphone screen as a piece of rigid glass that is limited by the size of the device itself. But Samsung's Infinity Flex Display doubles, unfolds and redounds to form a smaller form.
This origami screen is destined for a major cell phone launch, but Samsung offered no name, price or even a different timeline than 2019. The Korean electronics giant showed off the new display technology at its annual San Developers Conference Francisco in the hope of winning application creators to create experiences that take advantage of it.
In an interview, the CEO of Samsung's mobile phone division, DJ Koh, told me that the folding phone is not a gimmick. "In terms of productivity, a bigger screen is always better," he said. "If we made a screen much bigger than the Note, it would become a tablet. So why do not we think about doubling up? We started with this simple idea three or four years ago. "
Folded, the device has a screen in the front. When opened, the internal screen is flat – with a slight crease touch – to show a widescreen version of any application that has been previously run in the front.
How do they make the screen bend? Koh said that Samsung has flexible OLED screens for years, but they have been repaired behind the glass. The inner foldable phone screen uses a different type of transparent composite polymer material that can withstand being opened or closed at least 300,000 times. We will have to see how this is used in the real world.
It's time for something new on the phones. Samsung helped to create the trend of big phones that has become the standard with devices like Apple's iPhone XS Max. But across the industry, smartphone designs have more to do with incremental improvements than with bold new ideas – and consumers, unsurprisingly, have waited longer and longer to upgrade.
Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei also said it was working on a folding phone that could replace a computer.
What will we do with this big screen? Koh has some ideas – such as playing, watching videos and multitasking with up to three applications open – but realizes that Samsung needs software and user experience to help make the new kind of phone useful before it goes on sale. "We can not do this on our own," he said.
Samsung has also sought help from Google whose Android software powers the phone and needs to be adjusted to take advantage of it. "There are many challenges that we need to overcome together," Koh said.
The collaborative approach also makes Samsung different from Apple, which generally keeps the unfinished new technologies secret. "It's a blank canvas to create something together," said Justin Denison, senior vice president of Samsung Electronics America.