Tech Insight : What Are Foldable Phones?
With the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 phone being the latest foldable phone in the spotlight, we take a closer look at what foldable phones are, their advantages, their disadvantages, and likely future development.
As the name suggests, foldable phones have either a flexible screen, with a hinge that bisects the handset/device so that the uninterrupted screen can be opened out to twice the size or, as in the case of the Microsoft Surface Duo for Business, they have hinge that separates two screens. Depending on the model, foldable phones can open out to normal phone size (from half-size compact storage size) as with the Galaxy Z Flip or, can open out to tablet size as with the Galaxy Fold or Huawei Mate Xs.
Going Back 10 Years
Samsung first showed a prototype version of the Galaxy X foldable phone back in 2011 and, although originally due to be launched in 2018, it was delayed due to production problems in the development of the flexible plastic screens.
The key part of a truly foldable phone (one with a screen that folds) is a screen that is flexible and yet durable enough to withstand regular folding. The display part of the screen in foldable phones uses OLED technology. OLED (organic light-emitting diode) uses LEDs in which the light is produced by organic molecules. OLED panels are made by putting several organic thin films between two conductors so that when an electrical current is applied, a bright light is emitted. The big advantages of this, especially for foldable phone production, are the flexibility of the panels and the fact that each pixel is controlled individually and emits its own light, thereby giving great image quality and bright colours.
The Advantages of Foldable Phones
Some of the main advantages of foldable phones are:
– Flexibility and convenience – space-saving, compact storage.
– Bigger displays, making it easier to see, improving the user experience, and giving the device more scope.
– Multi-tasking potential, i.e., the user can make notes while checking messages, drag and drop photos for quick sharing, and more.
– Entertainment features e.g., better for reading e-books, watching films.
– Optimised photography and videography. Folding out to a bigger screen gives more room and scope to produce and enjoy photos and videos.
– The kudos of owning one plus the added value of novelty (self-image and greater emotional value). Foldable phones may be particularly rewarding to technological early-adopters.
Disadvantages of Foldable Phones
Some of the main disadvantages of folding phones are:
– High price. Anywhere between £1000 and £2300 for new foldable handsets.
– Susceptibility to damage and wear and tear. As with any moving parts, (in this case hinges and screens), damage is more likely to occur with repeated use.
– Heavier and chunkier designs despite being compact when folded.
– Concerns about app support.
Some tech-commentors have asked the question “do we need foldable phones?” For example, larger-screened handsets may not pose a major inconvenience to users and many higher-end smartphones already provide much of the functionality, apps, and convenience that most users need.
At the recent Global Tech Korea 2021, Samsung Display showed off a new 13-inch prototype of a stretchable screen that can add another dimension to user-experience e.g., the panel can ‘pulse’ in time with what is being displayed on the screen (the demonstration showed a pulsating lava screensaver).
What Does This Mean For Your Business?
For phone manufacturers and phone retailers, foldable phones represent a potential cash generator to help bridge the effects of the gap left by consumers waiting to switch to 5G phones when the network was available. Foldable phones also offer fashion/self-image appeal to the young age group who are big consumers of phones and tech, and they represent an area of competitive advantage for phone companies such as Samsung as they try to compete against Apple’s offerings. Foldable phones, however, have been a long time in (costly) development and suffering with (as in the case of Samsung) delays, and setbacks along the way (not helped by the pandemic). High prices mean that these phones are still at the early adopter stage and are unlikely to be appealing to smaller businesses. Going forward, innovations like the stretchable screen show that there are still some exciting developments to come in the experiential aspects of communications hardware.