The fabled Galaxy X – Samsung’s long-rumoured foldable smartphone – has been one of the most hotly anticipated devices in the industry. The idea of a flexible screen that can be bent whichever way the user chooses promises to be one of the most innovative things to happen to mobile devices for a long time.
However, such an innovation is obviously quite hard to achieve. While there have been plenty of indications that Samsung has made great leaps towards making the flexible display a reality, a new interview with Salman Saeed – product manager of display technology for mobile tech firm Qualcomm – has revealed that the Korean company is still a fair way off.
Speaking to TechRadar, Mr Saeed indicated that the flexible display was proving to be difficult to develop, largely due to the wear and tear it would be subjected to. The frequent bending would damage the display’s transistors, which power individual pixels on the screen.
“They [the phone manufacturers] haven’t cracked the material science right now to produce electrodes that can repeatedly withstand bending and folding,” Mr Saeed said. However, he added that this doesn’t mean we aren’t ever going to see the dream of a foldable phone become reality.
When asked if foldable phones would eventually be brought to market, Mr Saeed said: “I think it’s possible for them to do it. All of the tier one phone manufacturers are working very hard on this. The big phone makers all have these devices in their labs, but it’s just a reliability issue at this point.”
However, there are some positives to take away from this. For example, when it comes to processing power, modern phones are more than up to the challenge of a foldable multi-display. Mr Saeed claimed that Qualcomm’s processors could support as many as four displays at the same time.
That said, it will probably be a few years before we actually see a foldable phone in action. This would be time Samsung could spend on making sure the experience is actually worth it. After all, what would be the point in creating this impressive piece of tech if it was all just a gimmick?
The strength of a foldable phone, in theory, lies in its versatility. Users could keep it folded and have it act as a standard smartphone, or unfold it for a display twice the size for tasks like watching a film or editing images.
This gets around the major problem that has been plaguing phone manufacturers for the last few years: how to make the screen larger without increasing the size of the device. It is fairly well-established that if a phone is too large, it will not sell as well, so devices need to be small enough to be convenient while still providing users with a large screen.
The solution used by many companies so far has been to shrink the bezels around the edges of the screen, so more of the phone’s face is covered by the display. However, there is a limit to how far firms can go with this. A folding smartphone would be a way to provide twice the screen size without increasing the space it takes up in your pocket.
Of course, the user experience would play a huge role in the device’s success. If Samsung can produce something that switches between folded and unfolded seamlessly, it could be onto a winner.
However, it seems we will have to wait a few more years to find out. The technical issues of creating such a screen are an unfortunate delay, but necessary in order to ensure that when it does come out, it is as good as it can be.