Z-Fold design for foldables
Samsung's patent for a Z-Fold foldable smartphone was published by the Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO) on August 7, 2019, though it received approval at the end of May and was filed at the end of 2018. You can see patent photos and a concept photo from LetsGoDigital below.
The foldable smartphone era is here, but the new patent provides for a "Z-Fold" design where the foldable smartphone can fold in more than one place and appear to be a "Z" while folded. Think of the "zigzag" shape or look you can draw on a piece of paper. That type of shape is how foldables will appear in the future. To create a Z-Fold design for a smartphone, you simply fold it in at least two places.
In the case of Samsung's Z-Fold design, its foldable "Galaxies" of the future may be able to fold at least twice, with one section of the screen folding forward, the other folding backward. It's the equivalent of folding a sheet of paper on its front, then turning it over to fold its back. The "folding forward" and "folding backward" creates the Z-Fold look.
The patent for a Z-Fold smartphone was filed by Samsung Display, the subsidiary of Samsung Electronics that makes the displays for Samsung Galaxy smartphones, so the focus is on the screen and not all the other components such as cameras, microphones, gestures, virtual buttons, and so on. What can be known is that the Z-Fold design would come to a Galaxy smartphone that is going fully bezel-less as more components of the device are placed into the screen (cameras, fingerprint sensor, earpiece, etc.) or eliminated (such as the coveted 3.5mm headphone jack).
The difference between the Z-Fold foldable design and the current foldable design of the Galaxy Fold is that the Galaxy Fold only has one folding place while the Z-Fold design folds in at least two places.
Z-Fold versus current Fold design
Current foldables, such as the Samsung Galaxy Fold and Huawei Mate X (neither of which are available on the market as of yet), feature the current fold design similar to what you'd find in a book. The book folds over from one side to the other, in one place, which is how Samsung designed the Galaxy Fold. Samsung's promotional material shows that the Fold works like a butterfly "folds" its wings.
Of course, the Z-Fold design will work like a brochure in that it will fold in multiple places. What this means is that, ultimately, all the so-called buttons that have been present on smartphones will go into the display or give way to gestures.
Why a Z-Fold foldable — or any foldable at all, for that matter?
Some wonder about the purpose of folding smartphones anyway, asking what the point is behind foldables altogether. The answer? The pursuit of the all-in-one device. Smartphone screens have been widening, thanks to Samsung's push for bigger screens in its Galaxy S and Galaxy Note series, but as smartphones gain wider screens, phones require less bulk in order for smartphones to remain pocketable. The struggle to achieve that portability with ever-widening displays is real, leaving OEMs to search for an even better solution than trying to make phones so ridiculously thin that you can bend them in half if you apply too much pressure (we're looking at you, iPhone 6 Plus!).
To allow phones to remain with some bulk while also being pocketable and having wider screens, the rigid displays must go in favor of flexible screens that can fold and bend with the contours of pockets. Samsung's new Z-Fold design patent could showcase a 10-inch screen folding into a 6.6-inch screen. To have a 10-inch screen in your pocket that doesn't break easily, that you can carry, requires a foldable experience. So foldables do have a place in utility and purpose; they're not just being created for the purpose of "coming up with something new for the sake of making more money," as some would say.
Samsung's Galaxy Fold, set to re-release in September, features a 4.6-inch screen that folds into a massive 7.3-inch Infinity Flex display. With many Galaxy smartphone users enjoying 6.4-inch screens on devices like the Galaxy Note 9 (or the 6.8-inch screen of the Galaxy Note 10 Plus), readjusting to the smaller 4.6-inch "phone" screen of the Galaxy Fold (when it's folded) will prove inconvenient for some users, who'll want the 6-inch+ screen sizes to which they've grown accustomed. The new Z-Fold patent Samsung has received will move the Korean juggernaut to make devices with wider screens while maintaining their portability.
Z-Fold smartphone design growing on manufacturers
Samsung's Z-Fold design patent isn't original to Samsung; in fact, Russian manufacturer Caviar created a foldable iPhone Z (yes, named after the Z-Fold design) earlier this year, though it's nothing more than a concept currently. Samsung rival LG Electronics has patented a Z-Fold smartphone with the "Z" fold design that has dual displays. Samsung's Z-Fold patent provides for one display, which is similar to how it created the Galaxy Fold.