Decades of sci-fi movies have conditioned us to lust after devices that are pure screen with no bezels. Communicators that are paper-thin and transparent. Devices with screens that fold in half so that they actually fit in your damn pocket.
But barring any significant engineering or design breakthroughs, they’re never going to become a thing, and it’s unrealistic to believe they will with current technology.
The pitch is simple: a phone that folds open into a larger tablet. You’d get a big screen when you wanted one, and a smaller screen when you didn’t.
What’s there not to like?
It’s not that I have a problem with the idea of a foldable phone. It’s just that as a tech analyst, I see some real challenges that companies need to overcome in order to convince us such a device would be better than our current non-foldable glass slabs.
Samsung is, perhaps, the largest company that’s rumored to be working towards launching a foldable phone. It’s been rumored for more than a year now, with the latest reports saying the device could launch in early next year.
It’s been developing flexible displays for years and has even created a concept video for a display that bends in half called the Samsung Youm. It’s impressive stuff that gets all the nerds drooling, but the device in the concept videos is missing the critical components, like a battery, which last time I checked can’t get much thinner or flexible than what we already have today.
Oppo and Lenovo have both revealed prototype foldable devices, and they’re hideous.
But if anyone can pull off a foldable phone, it’s Samsung. The company has a rich history of challenging the status quo. From phones with built-in pocket projectors (Galaxy Beam), to phones with 10x optical zoom (Galaxy S4 Zoom), to curved glass edges (which is now a signature design element featured on all of its flagship phones), you can’t say Samsung doesn’t think different.
Sure, they’re prototype phones, but look just look at them. They’ve got huge bezels all around them, and there’s an ugly crease in the middle the screen when they fold up.
Who the hell would want a crease in their screen? It looks like absolute garbage. Any company that ships a foldable phone with a hinge in the middle of the displays should be laughed out of the room.
ZTE’s recently announced Axon M, which’ll be sold exclusively on AT&T (my guess is they’re the only carrier who would be stupid enough to sell this thing), looks like a bigger joke.
It doesn’t have a crease because it’s actually just two screens fixed together on a hinge. It’s basically a rotated Nintendo 3DS. But I guess, technically, it does fold. It just doesn’t look that useful.
History has not favored foldable devices or dual-screen mobiles of any kind (of course, flip phones are a different story).
Remember Sony’s Tablet P? It wasn’t technically a phone, but it folded in half and had two screens. You’ve probably never heard of it, or haven’t thought about it for years.
Kyocera’s dual-screen Echo phone released in 2011 was a complete flop. Only phone nerds would even remember this device. OK, it had more of a slider-hinge, but the idea was the same: to have two screens when an app calls for it.
And before the Echo, Kyocera showed off an “EOS” concept foldable phone. Guess what? It never materialized.
Or how about NEC’s Medias W foldable phone that looks uncannily like the phone that inspired the Axon M?
Where the heck are these phones now? Where was the revolution that they were supposed to bring?
It never happened.
Foldable smartphones and dual-screen phones just don’t work. A single, large edge-to-edge screen works perfectly fine, and that’s the direction that all phones are moving towards.
We all think we want a larger screen (why do you think Samsung put a projector into a phone?), but we don’t really need it.
It’s not as practical as it sounds. The technology to make it happen isn’t available today. The cons outweigh the pros.
Maybe one day I’ll eat my words and some tech reporter will link back to this story to prove how terribly wrong I am, but I’ll take that bet. I don’t see foldable phones shaking things up in any earth-shattering ways.
If Samsung or any of these companies ever release a foldable phone, it’ll get some oohs and ahhs for daring to do something new, but the novelty will wear off fast.