Foldable Phones: Explained

Back in November 2018, just couple of days before Samsung unveiling of a new bendable phone, Royole came out with their bendable device, called the “Flexpai”. The main wow factor was the tight fold it could achieve, looking to be a promising “pocketable” device.

This hype around the whole bendable device thing raised many eyebrows, including mine, as to many it is just another marketing gimmick to shove some new devices down our throats. Before i take any conclusion I must do some research into this matter. Let’s break things in the usual format and we’ll see if it is indeed a great new technology or it is just another of those marketing gimmicks I was talking about.

The technology

The whole device is being based on three main technological advances. First we need a flexible (for obvious reasoning) displays. Then we need to make them as thin as possible, to achieve the smallest radius bend, and the last one, which may have been the one holding back the whole thing, making the substrate bendable.

Flexible displays are no breakthrough discovery of 2019. The history starts in 1974, when Nicholas K. Sheridon, a Xerox employee made a breakthrough and designed the first flexible display, called Gyricon. A technology based on e-ink with the soul purpose to replace the traditional paper based offices.

In 2005, after Gyricon LLC was closed, HP opened a new research center called the ASU Flexible Display Center (FDC). In 2010 HP relesed it’s last demo of this technology, but stated :

[our company] doesn’t actually see these panels being used in truly flexible or rollable displays, but instead sees them being used to simply make displays thinner and lighter.

HP

The winner of this research race, were indeed the OLED flexible displays as they do not need any backlight. First such displayed were showcased at CES2013.

So we have bendable displays, now let’s make them as thin as possible. This was much more difficult than it sounds as it was necessary to find the right materials to make the display out of, as you not only need it to be very thin, but keep the strength of the thicker display, as a fragile display is of no good to anyone, especially if you plan to bend it. Royole actually claims to have the thines displays with a thickness of 0.01 mm and a bend radius of 1.00 mm.

Now making the substrate bendable was not easy by any stretch of the imagination. Traditional displays are usually placed on glass substrate to make them much more rigid. The problem is that “rigid” and “bendable” does not exactly play together nicely. We needed a new material that should not only be thin, bendable, but also very resistant to bending. Royole’s  display is rated up to 100.000 bends.

User benefits

For most users, having a bigger display will not necessarily have any advantages, as most popular screens are between 5 and 5.5 inch. At least for now this technology will mostly benefit power users who will appreciate to have a 5 or 6 inch phone that you can convert to a 10 or 12 inch tablet when you need more real estate. The problem with the first generation of foldable devices is that the curve is not as tight as you would think. Royole for example only displays the thickness of the device when it is fully unfolded (7.6 mm). The weight may also be a dealbreaker for some people. At 320g, the Flexpai comes at more than 100g more than Samsung’s Galaxy Note 9, which is not a light phone by any stretch of the imagination. Maybe this are just the so called “First Gen Pains”, but they are real none the least.

Future Implications

Even if may not consider right away to rush out and buy one of those foldable devices, this segment will inevitably develop. Just think in the future, having a 6 inch phone, that when you need more screen you unfold it to make a 12 inch display, and then when you arrive back home, you unfold it once more, and watch a movie on a 24 inch display that you can fit in your pocket. Maybe this is exaggerated, but the most important part is the flexibility that a foldable device might give you. Not having to carry with you a laptop on trips were you only need to check your mails and some web browsing.

Conclusions

Maybe this is a marketing gimmick that will fade into obscurity the same way 3D displays disappeared back in 2016. But I sure hope it is not. As I mentioned, the flexibility this type of device gives you is amazing, and this kinds of progress in technology is always well received. Even if the foldable phone will disappear, just think of the endless use cases of a flexible device.

Can you think of such use case? Tell me in the comment section down below.

Leave a Reply