Samsung, today at its developer conference in San Francisco, showed off its first foldable display that is part of a functional smartphone. It is being called “Infinity Flex”. That is the name of the screen, not the actual phone. The phone appears to still be in a pretty big case, one that would hide the design and such (which is quite common with these smartphones before release), and Samsung says that it will be available very soon. The Infinity Edge looks like a pretty small phone – taking us back to the flip phone days – then when you open it, the phone becomes more of a tablet. Though, it is more of a square tablet, in what might be a 4:3 aspect ratio. We were only able to see it in an executive’s hand at SDC 2018, and it did look like a really small tablet, but it is actually a 7.3-inch tablet. But of course, this is likely still a prototype.
During the keynote, Samsung said that when they were working on this foldable display, they had to rethink the anatomy of a smartphone. That included the internals as well as the glass that is on top of the display – the main layer that you interact with. That is solid glass, and to make that foldable, well it would take some engineering prowess. That is because glass is inflexible. So instead, Samsung had to invent a new protective layer, which was an advanced polymer that was flexible and tough. The other big thing that Samsung had to deal with was that displays were all static before foldable phones. Meaning that the elements of the display did not move, but with a foldable phone, it needs to be able to move. The Infinity Flex display was designed to be folded and unfolded repeatedly without damaging the display. This is due to Samsung using Foldable Adhesive. Samsung had to also make this display thinner than any other mobile display it had ever made, so that it could be foldable. Samsung reduced the thickness of the polarizer, which is used to reduce glare so you can see the display. Samsung says that this is only the beginning though, as it is planning to make rollable and stretchable displays as well.
The Infinity Flex actually has two displays. There is the display inside that is folded, and then there is a smaller four inch display on the outside that you will use when the phone is folded. That can run apps like a normal smartphone. Now when you unfold the smartphone, you get a 7.3-inch display that can run up to three apps at once. Taking multi-window to a new dimension. Of course, that is to help it take advantage of the added screen real estate here. App continuity will also work on this screen. So whatever app is open on the main screen, once you unfold the phone, it’ll be open there as well. It’s a simple feature – when you think about it – but one that is really needed when you are dealing with multiple screens on the same phone. The Infinity Flex is not available yet, but Samsung says that it will be able to mass produce it in the “coming months”. So it will likely be ready in the first half of 2019.
Background: Samsung has been working on foldable displays for quite a few years. The company first showed off flexible and foldable displays back at CES 2014. Now those were just displays, not attached to any sort of phone at all. It was a concept and a good way for Samsung to show off the future, something that would come nearly five years later. That led to Samsung doing the Galaxy Round, which was a flexible smartphone that only launched in South Korea. And that eventually led to Samsung working on curved displays, which is now the new normal on all of their smartphones. All of their flagship devices now have curved displays, on both sides. That has led to where we are today, with Samsung announcing a foldable display smartphone. Though the device isn’t quite ready yet, and won’t be for a few months, it is still an engineering feat, and it’s going to get people talking.
Impact: Foldable smartphones are really nothing new at this point. We’ve seen them from other companies, and no one really has a fully functional foldable smartphone that you can go out and buy today. But that will change pretty soon. Samsung being one of the first to release a foldable smartphone is not a surprise in the least. This is because Samsung is one of the leaders when it comes to displays. So being able to not only create this display but also do research and development on a foldable display, as well as the components inside, goes a long way towards making it a reality. As Samsung said on stage today, the company had to do a lot of things different with this smartphone, so that the display could fold. That included making the display thinner, using different material on top of the display so that this form factor could work. Of course, since Samsung had to do all of this to make this foldable smartphone work, it is going to charge quite a bit more for this smartphone. Now Samsung has not yet said when it will be available, where or how much. But there was a report rather recently out of the Korea Times (which is usually on point when it comes to leaks and rumors about Samsung and LG) that the phone would cost over $1800 USD. That is not a huge surprise, considering smartphones are already crossing that one grand mark, and with all of the new technology here, it’s going to cost a pretty penny. Samsung is still expecting to have it in mass production in the next few months, so it could be landing on retailer shelves in the first half of next year, and perhaps even having a big announcement at CES in January.