Folding Smartphone May be Future for Smartphones

30Sep

We once had flip phones. Now here come the flip tablets. At a display industry conference in May, the buzz was about prototypes of screens that were flexible enough to roll and flap in the wind. One firm, called BOE, showed a gadget it dubbed a ”phoneblet” with a 7.5-inch screen that folded, without seams, into a phone and back again … without breaking. Fans of the HBO show “Westworld” might have seen the sci-fi equivalent in the folding tablets characters use to control killer robots.

BOE says it got rid of the traditional color filter and backlight, and replaced rigid glass with plastic. Bending doesn’t break the pixels because each one is so tiny; it’s like how a single human can walk seemingly flat on Earth even though it curves.

It’s been coming for at least a decade

Samsung showed a wowee folding phone concept video at CES in 2013. The first bendable screens went into curved TVs and phones that round at the edges. We’ve now crossed a threshold where we can make screens that bend repeatedly — and soon we’ll be able to fold screens as sharply as a piece of paper, said Helge Seetzen, the president of the Society for Information Display. How does that work? BOE says it got rid of the traditional color filter and backlight, and replaced rigid glass with plastic. Bending doesn’t break the pixels because each one is so tiny; it’s like how a single human can walk seemingly flat on Earth even though it curves.

Before you get too excited

Working prototypes are one thing — producing millions of screens that can reliably fold and unfold is much tougher. Anything with hinges (hidden behind the screen) could be easier to break than our current solid devices. But one silver lining: Moving to plastic could make phones and tablets more shatter-resistant, even if they might be easier to scratch.

We’ll see foldable devices in the next year, though the first ones may have seams. Some analysts think Samsung’s folding phone (nicknamed the “Galaxy X”) will start production in November and will cost $1,850 when it debuts in 2019. Seetzen says screens that fold like paper are five years away.

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