Commentary

Foldable, Transparent Mobile Devices Coming Soon?

You know how advertisers are always going on about the need for flexibility and transparency? Well, this jargon may soon have a rather different connotation, if Samsung follows through on some rather bold promises made by an unnamed executive in an interview with BusinessKorea earlier this week. 

“The industry believes that the commercialization of foldable smartphones will be possible in 2016,” the Samsung Display bigwig said. It’s worth noting Samsung Display is actually a different division than the one that cranks out the smartphones (that’s Samsung IT and Mobile Communications), so who knows if such devices are actually in the works. But flexibility is a cool idea, as it would help avoid the unfortunate phenomenon of the bent smartphone. And transparency is just cool, because, well: You can see through it!

One industry source speculates Samsung will begin introducing flexibility with its popular Galaxy S7, or a least a special edition version of the phone (not everyone wants a loosey-goosey smartphone, after all).

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An obvious question is just how flexible a “foldable” phone will be. At one end there’s something like a piece of cloth that you could literally roll up like a scroll, which strikes me as being pretty implausible, since they will still presumably need chips and other solid components to function -- but what do I know? At the end of the day it’s all basically fire magic to me. Then at the other end of the spectrum, “foldable” could just mean you can touch the two opposite edges together on the long axis without it breaking. Or perhaps you can really fold it in half like a piece of paper -- so now we’re back to flip phones?

On the transparency front, the same report quoted a senior LG official who noted: “The development of display technology that creates a virtual space on glass is already completed, and even a promotional prototype is available. However, it will take time until the product becomes commercialized due to mass production according to demand and stable supply.”

Of course these new technologies are more widely applicable, beyond just smartphones. The Samsung exec added: “When flexible display technology is being used in e-books and laptops, which are substituted for publications, the concept of tiny portable PCs and e-books will be realized in reality.”

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