In short: Lenovo is working on a foldable Android tablet that it intends to commercialize in the near future, South Korean ETNews reports, citing industry sources familiar with the matter. The device's screen is said to be 13 inches in size and manufactured by LG Display. The exact degree of curvature supported by the screen of the unconventional gadget remains unclear, with insiders only stating the panel will be of the OLED variety, as is the case with all other known projects revolving around foldable consumer electronics.
Lenovo is aiming to release the unique device in the second half of 2019 and will initially debut it in China, though the firm is likely to bring it to the West as well. Even if the slate doesn't end up being a massive commercial success, its unconventional form factor should serve as an eye-catching advertisement for Lenovo's device portfolio. LG Display should start manufacturing the panels meant to be used by the Lenovo-made gadget by early next year, with a trial production run being likely to begin no later than late winter.
The still-unnamed product won't be capable of operating as a smartphone, even though it's expected to run Android. Due to the size of its panel, the device was envisioned as an evolution of the tablet form factor that may support some notebook functionalities when folded under a 90-degree angle, i.e. have a portion of its screen act as a virtual keyboard. By using a larger foldable panel than what Samsung and Huawei are currently said to be working on, Lenovo may be able to deliver a more durable device, insiders are now speculating.
LG Display's technology has also been pitched to Dell, as well as its sister company LG Electronics, sources claim. While the former is still understood to be approaching the concept of bendable consumer electronics in a careful manner, the latter already confirmed it's working on the idea and is likely to utilize LG Display's foldable panels in the near future.
Background: Lenovo has an established track record with tablet and ultrabook innovation, primarily due to the R&D efforts associated with its Yoga Book lineup that saw the company experiment with capacitive keyboards and unique 2-in-1 designs, pairing it both with Google's Android and Microsoft's Windows. Should the firm truly opt to commercialize an all-screen slate that can be bent in half, it's likely to introduce it under the same brand. LG Display itself has been developing foldable modules for several years now but has yet to commercialize any such creations and it's still unclear whether the company's current setup would even allow for immediate mass production with reliable yield rates, something that Samsung Display is said to have been struggling for years.
LG Electronics recently confirmed it's working on foldable handsets but said it almost certainly won't be the first to release such offerings. Instead of trying to win such a niche race, the technology juggernaut is adamant to deliver "the most interesting foldable phone" in the world, a company official told AndroidHeadlines earlier this month. Before LG delivers its first bendable gadget, Samsung is expected to do the same, as is Huawei. LG's South Korean rival has been working on bendable display panels for over half a decade now and its flexible Super AMOLED modules used on the curved-screen Galaxy S and Galaxy Note-series models are the understood to be the first (consumer-grade) step toward that goal. LG already released similar products under the LG Flex line but put them on hold following limited commercial success several years back.
Whereas Samsung may debut its first foldable phone as early as next month and release it in the first quarter of 2019, Huawei is currently said to be collaborating with Chinese manufacturer BOE on a similar device and could introduce it around the same time. Other OEMs such as Motorola, OPPO, Vivo, and Xiaomi have been pursuing foldable handset projects as well, according to patent documentation reviewed by AndroidHeadlines. The majority of the mobile field agrees that the unconventional form factor could end up being the future of mainstream smartphones but the question of how to implement such technologies most effectively is where industry opinions differ. Whereas Samsung is looking to use bendable screens to evolve the concept of flip phones, Huawei is pursuing a booklet-like design, whereas Lenovo is now said to have opted for an entirely different route.
Impact: Given how much its mobile unit has been struggling over the course of the last several years, the Chinese OEM has little choice but to continue investing in R&D and attempt to differentiate its products from what its rivals are offering if it hopes to return to the black in the foreseeable future. Foldable devices are one option to do so, as is 5G, another tech avenue the company already confirmed it's exploring.
While a bendable-screen slate would likely be a unique offering, especially if Lenovo manages to release it by the second half of 2019 when foldable-display devices will still be a rarity, the commercial potential of such a gadget may still be slim even if the OEM opts for an aggressive price tag; according to most industry trackers, the global tablet market continues to shrink, with Apple and Huawei being the only two companies that managed to improve or at least maintain their performance in the segment over the last year. While tablet innovation stagnated in recent times, the continued market decline has more to do with the fact that smartphones are getting bigger and more versatile, making such (now only slightly) larger devices less useful, some analysts believe.
Ultimately, Lenovo is facing an uphill battle with marketing its foldable tablet regardless of how innovative the device ends up being, but with Motorola currently being the only bright spot in its struggling mobile division, the company can't afford to play it safe with consumer electronics in the near future and will either attempt differentiating itself through innovation or continue to post tens of millions of dollars in quarterly losses in the segment (seeing how it repeatedly said it isn't quitting the mobile market).