A Samsung patent application published by the World Intellectual Property Organization last week reveals an unusual method which could be used by the Korean company to create dual-screen mobile devices. Unlike most other patents published in the past, this particular device envisioned by Samsung doesn't rely on foldable display technology; instead, the design is based on two separate panels which can be used independently or snapped together via magnets to create different form factors for various uses. The two modules appear to be identical, with each "half" featuring a display, loudspeaker, and a rear camera. The internal magnets seem to have been designed to offer the functionality of an external physical hinge, as well as a slide-out mechanism, and the two modules would take advantage of proprietary software that would maximize the potential uses of the varying form factors enabled by the concept.
Background: For the past several years, Samsung has entertained the idea of changing the definition of the smartphone by creating a mobile gadget which can act both as a handset and a large-screen device similar to tablets. The official description provided by the OEM in the latest patent application strengthens this idea even further. It claims that advancements in communication and electronics led to the evolution of displays in various forms and sizes for different purposes, and in summary, the OEM aims to address some of the disadvantages created by these trends by combining different form factors into a single device. We've seen Samsung's efforts leading to the creation of a foldable smartphone/tablet prototype a couple of months ago during SDC 2018, and countless rumors indicate that the Korean OEM should be ready to commercialize its first foldable smartphone by the end of 2019. Nevertheless, it appears that Samsung might want to tackle these challenges with or without foldable display technology, as the device described in the latest patent application seems to be based solely on conventional non-flexible displays. It describes two identical smartphone-like modules equipped with flat touchscreens, which can snap together to form a dual-screen device covering a wide variety of form factors including a tablet-like device or a mobile phone with dual-screens positioned back-to-back. Additionally, one of the sketches provided by Samsung suggests that the magnets hidden inside the two modules could allow for a slider form factor similar to a Blackberry smartphone, without the need of a physical sliding mechanism. Likewise, since both modules lack a physical keyboard, the QWERTY layout would be represented virtually on the secondary module's display.
Impact: The application was filed in mid-2018 but published much more recently on the 3rd of January 2019. As usual, there's no guarantee that the unit described in the application will enter mass production, or whether this type of device will precede the flexible form factor. Either way, the manufacturing of a dual-screen device could virtually double the production costs especially in this particular case where each module is powered by its own internal components and can operate independently as a conventional smartphone. Having said that, Samsung could theoretically sell these modules separately or bundled together as a single product.