A patent application filed by Samsung with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and discovered by Foldable News reveals that the Korean OEM might be considering reviving the "camera-phone" concept using flexible display technology. The documents describe a flexible mobile phone equipped with a mechanism that allows a camera lens to be attached to the device.
A highly unusual exterior design
According to the filing, this particular Samsung smartphone would have two primary modes of operations enabled by an external flexible panel which can provide an aspect ratio of 21:9 in one mode, and a 4:3 image format in the other. Despite appearances, the phone does not have a clamshell design, and as detailed in Fig. 11, the device is based on four different parts attached by hinges, virtually forming a loop.
Two of these hinges are more detailed and look similar to the one employed by the Huawei Mate X. The other two hinges are not explained, which might suggest that the device has only two, however, the design showcased by Samsung indicates that the form factor would require a total of four, otherwise the whole unit would split into two separate parts and break the loop.
It's a highly unusual design and somewhat difficult to envision, but Fig. 11 included in the image gallery below breaks down the folding process quite clearly, even though there is little information about the hinge mechanism.
Aside from the unusual form factor, the biggest focus of this design lies in a mechanism that allows users to attach camera lenses to the device. The documents also suggest that when the lens is removed, the same mechanism could be used to attach the phone to a mount, inside a vehicle or on a bike.
In addition to the external lens, the would also be equipped with a more standard internal camera. When the device is folded so that both cameras point in the same direction, both sensors could work together and provide 3D photography. In the opposite mode, the internal camera would face inwards and would turn into a front-facing unit, while the detachable camera would continue to operate as a rear-facing sensor but lacking 3D capabilities.
The camera phone concept revived(?)
This detachable lens is undeniably one of the most eye-catching features boasted by this concept smartphone. If it would exist, this device would virtually be a "camera phone" and Samsung does have some prior experience with the concept since it launched the Samsung Galaxy Camera in 2012. It didn't have a detachable lens but boasted a fairly bulky telescopic unit providing optical zoom.
The question is whether the concept would work in the real world. It might be exciting on paper, but the reality is that detachable camera lenses for smartphones are quite off-putting and never managed to become too popular.
Such detachable modules don't offer a compact form factor and most smartphone users want their mobile devices to be ready to capture images at any time without much preparation. If a user is willing to carry a bulky device or camera lens then they'll probably be more inclined to use a dedicated solution rather than a hybrid phone which tries to combine both worlds but doesn't excel in either.
Now, there's obviously no guarantee that this device will be pushed into production, but Samsung has unveiled its first commercially-viable flexible smartphone last month and the OEM is expected to eventually release more devices based on flexible display technology. The patent application at hand might reveal one of Samsung's ideas that won't be materialized, or it could provide a sneak peek into the future. It's probably the former but only time will tell.