In early 2017, we can expect Samsung Electronics Co. to release the first foldable smartphone models in the market. Over the past few months, the company has been gaining buzz for their flexible electronic device concept. And just recently, a copy surfaced on the internet of their application for a patent filed on the 20th of April this year with the Korean Intellectual Property Office. The company also filed for a utility patent with the United States Patent and Trademark Office last November. The application with publication number US 2016-0187994 A1 is now pending approval.
The device uses organic LED technology for its flexible display. While the use of OLED is nothing new with Samsung, having used it in all their flagship devices, the newest model is set to be the first commercially available bendable smartphone.
Before the release of this concept, Samsung launched its Galaxy Note 7. The public generally received it in a positive light until units began catching fire and soon exploded when they were charged. Lawsuits followed when unit after unit started blowing up. Then an inevitable and highly damaging PR incident happened, and Samsung had to undergo a recall process with a staggering estimated cost of two billion dollars. Samsung then had no choice but to discontinue the sale of Galaxy Note 7, losing around 5 billion dollars up front plus an evaluated 95 percent of the year’s operating profit.
And so, with the recent setbacks Samsung faced, the integration of OLED tech with a design that allows users to fold their phones might just give Samsung the edge they need to boost their sales, reacquire what they lost, and rebuild their corporate reputation.
How the flexible electronic device works
As presented in the patent application, the model will have an 8-inch screen when unfurled and when used as a handset, will reduce into a 5-inch display. For the two screens to work in a single phone, the patented images showed a hinge specifically designed to keep the smartphone upright and help keep it perfectly fit in one’s pocket when folded.
Although other details remain undisclosed until now, people are aware that many parts of a regular, unbendable smartphone will have to function differently. Aside from coming up with a functional and flexible display, the minds behind this innovative gadget will have to think of a way to install a battery that not only remains intact without overheating but will also work well whether the device is folded or not.
In comparison with Microsoft Surface Book
The phone’s axis is similar to the flexible hinge of Microsoft’s Surface Book, something which the company patented last year. Samsung’s hinge is also similar to Microsoft’s multi-pivot armadillo hinge that has a pending patent application with the USPTO, publication number US 2016-0132075 A1. And while Samsung also filed a patent request for their flexible device concept, and with Microsoft’s application having a final rejection status, it is still quite early to tell if there will be possible infringement cases once the products hit the market of both countries where the inventions can be sold.
However, buyers of the first gen Microsoft Surface Book noted that dust tends to settle on the inner sides of the hinge. On the other hand, images of Samsung’s flexible device shows the hinge has a different arrangement where each fold curves in a way that fits the next. The patent application of Samsung also suggests that the hinge, unlike Microsoft’s, can work in a way that allows the device to be folded and unfolded semi-automatically.
It was in 2015 that Samsung announced it was working on a foldable display, naming the research then as Project Valley. People expect the model to be released under the name Galaxy X. But this model is not the first product under Samsung’s work on flexible screens. Galaxy Note Edge and its curved screen gave us the first glimpse of this tech back in 2014. Soon after, being the largest supplier of OLED panels used in mobile products, Samsung continued to develop pioneering formats of displays for smartphones. Samsung is counting on the OLED tech to generate large orders that could take them back to the front lines after the overwhelming recall of phones.
And now with the flexible OLED technology, smartphones can be designed thinner yet able to display brighter images and videos without quickly draining the battery, unlike phones with LCD screens. Tech analysts and enthusiasts are excited to see these elements in Samsung’s Project Valley next year.