In short: Samsung is looking into the concept of dual-screen smartphones, having recently envisioned something akin to the ZTE Axon M, albeit with much more refined hardware, software and a user experience that’s not gimmicky, which is how many reviewers described the 2017 smartphone which the Chinese company advertised as technically “foldable.” According to new IP documentation reviewed by AndroidHeadlines, Samsung filed to patent a dual-screen phone concept in September, having done so in a highly unconventional manner, with the company’s patent documentation being uncharacteristically detailed and describing a wide variety of use cases for the device.
Samsung envisioned four main operating modes for the dual-screen phone with several variations: stand and table modes depicted above, as well as folded and outfolded modes intended for in-hand use. All four of those setups would be able to leverage two screens as one larger display, or utilize the extra panel for various purposes. Samsung sees many gaming applications for its invention that could essentially operate as Nintendo’s 2DS and 3DS consoles, using the secondary display for supporting information or gameplay itself. Social media is another app category that could benefit from the addition of another screen, as is mobile photography, the patent reads, though it doesn’t cover any specific camera system.
The device would also feature a single motherboard, with the main implication of that fact being that the concept wouldn’t be that of two phones joined with a hinge but a single handset with an extra display that’s rather thin and rotates around the actual body of the creation. The South Korean conglomerate also believes the invention could serve as a miniature laptop alternative in landscape mode, as per the same filing. While the display control software Samsung thought of would always classify one panel as the “main” screen, most applications, including the company’s staple Always-On Display, would be capable of leveraging either or both at the same time.
Background: Samsung has been pursuing foldable smartphones for over half a decade, according to countless reports, industry insider claims, and statements from the company itself. The Seoul-based original equipment manufacturer is currently on course to start selling its first-ever foldable phone in 2019 but it may announce it as early as this year so as to beat Huawei to doing the same, sources claimed this summer. Its next big opportunity to do so — assuming the handset won’t launch at a dedicated product event — is the next iteration of the annual Samsung Developer Conference, a two-day happening starting in San Francisco on November 7.
Despite the newly uncovered IP filing, the company’s idea of truly foldable smartphones revolves around devices with a single panel of the OLED variety that’s both energy-efficient and bendable, as its own officials such as Samsung Mobile CEO DJ Koh said on numerous occasions. It’s hence unclear how this concept that has already been commercialized by the Kyocera Echo back in 2011 fits in that grander plan; while patents are never a guarantee of commercial ambitions, the level of detail contained in Samsung’s latest filing suggests the company certainly thought about this idea more than it does about many other additions to its intellectual property portfolio.
Regardless of whether the dual-screen concept ever amounts to a consumer-grade device, Samsung’s first smartphone with a bendable screen should launch as a niche offering priced at over $1,500, with previous reports suggesting the two will still share some selling points, including a focus on gaming. The South Korean OEM has been leveraging games in an attempt to target a younger demographic for the better part of this year; it most recently did so with the Galaxy Note 9, the latest addition to the popular phablet series that has traditionally been aimed exclusively at adults (not that those don’t play games). The firm’s initiative saw it partner with Epic Games and feature popular battle royale title Fortnite as both a timed Galaxy device exclusive and a game that truly excels on its newest Android flagships.
While the aforementioned approach is still the subject of significant skepticism, Samsung’s thinking appears to be clear – games and high-end smartphones are a natural fit, even if the latter haven’t been designed with gaming as their primary purpose, which is the case with products such as the Razer Phone 2 launched just yesterday. As smartphone tech currently doesn’t get more high-end than foldable handsets and given Samsung’s existing marketing practices, it’s likely that gamers will certainly be a demographic the company will be targeting with such devices, even if it already has a gaming-first smartphone in the works.
Impact: The sheer volume of use cases and details Samsung presented as part of its newly discovered IP filing is uncharacteristically detailed for patent requests, especially those describing something as ordinary as a smartphone, two screens notwithstanding. That state of affairs suggests the company may actually be much closer to commercializing the concept outlined above than what can be said for most other electronics patents, including those from Samsung itself.
Regardless, the vision for foldable smartphones Samsung has been publicly communicating up to this point revolved around a single screen and many display technology breakthroughs, making it unclear whether the new filing is an outlier or signals a more profound, inclusive strategy for next-generation handsets. Mr. Koh previously confirmed the tech juggernaut’s first foldable smartphone won’t be its last, so while Samsung will certainly be using it to test the global market response to such devices, it firmly believes a significant demand for them will be created sooner rather than later.
Once Samsung turns the Galaxy F — or however its first bendable device will be called — from an Android smartphone into an Android smartphone lineup, the company may not take long until it starts expanding the idea of foldable handsets to more form factors. The one uncovered here might actually be among the first variants Samsung will introduce given how none of the technologies it utilizes are next-generation stuff in the sense that they can’t already be mass-produced with reliable yield rates, as suggested by the company’s own statements included in the documentation reviewed by AndroidHeadlines. So, Samsung may eventually end up delivering the world’s first dual-screen smartphone people will actually want to use.