Just when you thought smartphones had reached their peak, a slew of handset manufacturers are looking to change the game. Once a technology only seen in science fiction, the era of the folding smartphone is finally upon us.
But like with all nascent technologies, there’s a lot of hype surrounding foldable displays and folding devices. Some of that hype, of course, isn’t justified. That's why we've compiled all of the important bits of information regarding the next big thing in smartphone tech. Continue reading to learn Everything You Need to Know About Foldable Smartphones in 2019.
Foldable Phones Are Coming...
Rumors of folding smartphones, and the technology they rely on, have swirled the tech industry blogosphere for several years now. But recently, the fruits of that development are just starting to be seen. The foldable smartphones are coming.
Several manufacturers across the smartphone industry have announced that they are working on handsets with folding displays. And at least one OEM has actually debuted a folding smartphone. In other words, expect foldable handsets to be the buzz at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next month.
It’s not just manufacturers that are delving into the new technology, either. Last year, Google hinted that it was working on baking support for “foldables” into Android. While there’s no word on a timeline just yet, Android will be at the forefront of the first wave of foldable smartphones.
…But They’re Not Really Here (Yet)
Despite the excitement about folding phones, you may want to hold off on being an early adopter for the time being. The technology is still in its infancy, and it might take a while for OEMs to actually figure out how to implement foldable displays properly.
Just look at the Royole Flexpai, the first foldable smartphone that has actually hit the market (in China). Among other issues, the device’s software is extremely buggy when responding to folding. The form factor isn’t exactly efficient — it’s incredibly thick and uncomfortable to hold when it’s actually folded.
So while manufacturers rush to debut their own folding devices, there will be no shortage of challenges to face — both on the manufacturer and the consumer end. An actual, user-friendly device that will be worth the cost of admission is probably a couple years off.
Benefits of a Foldable Phone
At this point, you may be asking yourself why you’d even want a folding phone in the first place. Today’s smartphones function just fine without any fancy, bendy technology, right? There are a couple reasons, at least according to proponents of the tech.
For one, foldable devices are mostly about marrying the smartphone and the tablet. You can have a pocketable smartphone that functions like today’s handsets — or you can “fold out” the display for drawing, watching videos, or other tasks better suited for a larger display.
It’s also a surefire way for OEMs to debut a device that stands out in a saturated smartphone market. That’ll become especially important, since fewer people are buying devices and most modern handsets are pretty similar. But, again, there needs to be a balance between the two forms or users will just end up with a clunky device that doesn’t do anything well.
All the Folding Phones So Far
As we mentioned, smartphone OEMs are rushing to announce their own folding smartphone developments. That, notably, includes Samsung, who debuted a prototype folding device last year. Motorola, Huawei, Lenovo and Xiaomi are also reported to be working on similar devices.
But with the exception of the Royole Flexpai, all of the devices we’ve actually seen haven’t gotten past the prototype stage. And most of them are still being developed. While that could change at MWC next month, it may be better to withhold expectations until we see more.
Other manufacturers could be working on folding smartphones or similar tech — or, at least, they’re rumored to be. That includes LG, Oppo and Sony. Companies working on similar ideas include Intel, which debuted prototype dual-screen devices in October 2018.
What About a Folding iPhone?
You probably have noticed that Apple has been curiously absent from this list. But while Apple hasn’t made any announcements related to a foldable iPhones, there are indications that the Cupertino tech giant is developing similar technology.
That mostly comes in the form of patents and patent applications related to folding displays — and there have been a lot of them over the past few years. Even though Apple has been silent on folding displays, it’s basically guaranteed that the tech is being considered by the firm in some way.
Still, while Apple does break new ground, it doesn’t tend to follow the hype train when it comes to smartphone trends. Just look at 5G. Apple reportedly won’t debut a 5G phone until 2020, a year after the first Android 5G devices roll out. Expect a similar, cautious timeline for iPhones with foldable displays.