Samsung is exploring the possibility of engineering a folding smartphone and tablet hybrid that centers around a watchband-style hinge, based on new IP documentation reviewed by AndroidHeadlines. The hinge in the patent is designed as a series of interlinking geared segments that can be folded in a single direction and are held together by pins, as illustrated below. When unfolded, those lay flat and provide users with a wide display. The display can also be folded away from the user so that the right-hand portion of the display is moved to the back and the left side of the panel remains facing the user. The central portion of the display that covers the gears takes on the role of one of the side edges and the usable display panel is nearly square in that configuration. The rear panels lay nearly flush with one another when folded.
Background: The concept shown in Samsung's latest patent is completely different from the details that have been provided by the Korean tech giant or that have leaked in terms of display real estate. The information detailed alongside the company's 'Infinity Flex' panel at this year's Samsung Developer Conference 2018 suggests that the first Samsung folder will actually feature two displays. The handset, tentatively dubbed the Samsung Galaxy F, has been hinted as folding in a similar fashion to a book with a second 4-inch panel on the 'cover' when it's folded. The flexible panel on the inside will measure around 7.3-inches like a tablet. Conversely, the new Samsung design does line up well with Google's recent additions to Android OS itself. The search giant's announcement on the matter included descriptions for how Android could be adjusted by OEMs to operate using exactly this configuration. That's not surprising since Samsung is has worked closely with Google to ensure that Android will respond automatically to changes in the configuration of a folding smartphone.
The design also isn't entirely different from those previously used by Lenovo in its own clamshell-style dual-screen devices like the Lenovo Yoga Book or Miix-series detachable laptops. There are some differences between the two. For example, the hinge does seem to protrude more on Lenovo hardware than what's shown in the recent patent's associated images and they don't include a flexible panel laid over top. But there are likely to be key similarities as well and Lenovo isn't the only manufacturer to take inspiration from watches when designing a hinge. At the same time, the company is among those that has reportedly been in talks with LG Display in order to attain flexible display technology for use in smartphones though.
Impact: The patent in question may or may not generate conflict within the industry. LG's screens are expected to be in mass production at around the same time that Samsung is expected to reveal its final design for the Galaxy F family of handsets but those aren't likely to be based on this patent. Lenovo's devices using those displays are rumored to be landing in Q3 2019. Since the Galaxy F is very unlikely to be based on this particular design, given what's known about it, Lenovo's handset could be finalized with a watch-style hinge first. That could help free up either company or another to challenge the use of the design.