It’s only a matter of time and foldable phones will be the new norm, just like bezel-less phones are now. At the MWC 2018, a member of the Graphene Flagship program, a pan-European research initiative responsible for commercializing graphene, an element that is targeting the mobile and wearable industry due to its unique properties, said that foldable phones will be among us within the next five years.
In fact, we already got the first foldable phone in 2017, the ZTE Axon M, but its unpopularity is obviously because the market wasn’t – and probably still isn’t – ready for this technology. Given the fast-changing smartphone industry and the continued lack of innovative designs that is leading to dreaded things like the notch, it’s becoming increasingly likely that foldable phones will be here even much earlier, probably even during the second half of 2018.
Foldable phones are increasingly looking like the go-to option if consumers will keep wanting more display real estate on mobile phones without making them any bigger than they are at the moment. With this technology set to take over the future of smartphones, we take a quick look at how Android stands at the moment.
Being the leader in the Android ecosystem, there’s no doubt that Samsung will make its presence felt in the foldable smartphones business, which is why even before ZTE gave us the Axon M, there was already talk of the Korean company working on a foldable smartphone. To date, the phone hasn’t materialized, but the better news is that the company has actually confirmed that it’s working on a foldable phone.
In fact, it’s rumored that the phone, which has so far been referenced as Samsung Galaxy X – although this could change amid speculations that the Galaxy S9 successor could be called Galaxy X – will arrive in the second half of this year. How true this is can only be determined with time.
Related: Best Samsung phones
LG is not only Samsung’s local rival in South Korea, but the two are always battling out for a share of the global cake. Although LG’s smartphone division is expected to take a restrained approach in the near future, the company has also been talked up in the foldable smartphone business.
Earlier this year, patents for two foldable phone concepts filed by LG were discovered, prompting suggestions that Samsung might get an immediate competitor. How soon LG’s works on foldable phones will commence still remains to be seen, but these patents are in no way a guarantee that the device will materialize.
As noted, ZTE already laid the groundwork for foldable phones when it launched the Axon M back in 2017. The phone isn’t that popular, but we can’t blame the company for this lack of popularity, rather, it’s the consumers that are still not ready for this technology.
Still, the Chinese company isn’t giving up and in an interview with Engadget at the CES 2018, the company said that the Axon M is only the beginning and that it plans to unveil a true foldable smartphone to rival what Samsung is planning.
A story about Android isn’t complete without the mention of Huawei, the second-leading smartphone vendor in the world. Given that Samsung has already confirmed plans to make a foldable phone, it was never in doubt that Huawei would also join the party.
Back in October 2017, Huawei’s CEO of consumer business group, Richard Yu, said the company already had a working prototype of a foldable smartphone. Patents of this foldable smartphone have recently appeared online, adding even more weight to Yu’s previous remarks.
While patents can mean anything, their timing could be an indicator that Huawei is ready to begin works on their foldable smartphone.
Related: Best Huawei Honor phones
In early 2017, patents of a Xiaomi foldable smartphone were discovered online and later, it was rumored that the Chinese OEM has plans to unveil a phone called Xiaomi Fold. As the name suggests, this is a foldable smartphone, but details about the company’s progress have remained scanty.
It has been rumored that the said Xiaomi Fold would be unveiled this 2018, but given the lack of any major leaks or rumors, it seems unlikely to happen.
Update [July 31, 2018]: Reports surfacing from China claim Oppo and Xiaomi have come up with a foldable smartphone development project with the aim of taking on Samsung. Apparently, the two will be working together with industry-leading suppliers of foldable display screens with an aim of launching their phones in 2019.
The implementation of the foldable display technology is said to be a little different from what Samsung and Huawei are rumored to be working on. Apparently, Xiaomi has plans to go with an out-folding panel, which should present an interesting option. Like Huawei, Xiaomi and Oppo are said to be considering working with Chinese suppliers like BOE, but LG Display is also in consideration.
Another big player from China that is also said to be toying around with the idea of foldable smartphones is Oppo. The company was reported to have filed patents pertaining to a foldable smartphone back in January 2018 and while we haven’t heard much about it since then, Oppo is known for its willingness to be part of the current trends.
As usual with any patents, there’s nothing much we can gather from the listing regarding the Oppo foldable phone, including the possible release date.
After several years of silence, Nokia is back with a bang. Besides the remarkable decision to go full-on with Android One, HMD-backed Nokia is also believed to be prepping a foldable smartphone. Thanks to patents unearthed by Phone Arena, it appears that the Finnish company has plans to take on the big boys in the Android world with a foldable phone of its own.
It’s worth noting that Nokia has been in the mobile phone business for decades and in fact, Phone Arena points out that the company has been filing similar patents since 2005. In short, maybe there’s nothing special about the latest filing, but given the expected shift to foldable smartphones, now might just be the perfect moment for Nokia to pounce.
Related: Best Nokia phones
Sony might not be enjoying the best of markets presence in the U.S., but the company has a significant following outside the first and second biggest smartphone markets in the world, more so in Europe. For this reason, the Japanese OEM cannot be written off whatsoever and in fact, rumors suggest that LG could help Sony realize the dream of a foldable smartphone thanks to its OLED display technology.
Sony already works with LG Display for the supply of curved display panels used on the former’s smart TVs. In January 2018, Business Korea reported that future Sony smartphones will come with flexible OLEDs, but no further details about the exact design or when these phones will go mainstream wasn’t talked up.
Related: Best Sony phones
The idea behind foldable smartphones is so as to create a device that is flexible enough to fit into a shirt’s pocket when not in use and when in use, it can get as big as a tablet. Now, there hasn’t been any news of an HTC foldable smartphone, but the Taiwanese company isn’t new to “foldable” technology.
Earlier this year, HTC filed patents for a foldable Mobile VR viewer that aims to solve one major problem with current mobile VR headsets – portability. While the design might slightly different from what we expect to see on foldable smartphones, the reasoning behind the need for a foldable mobile VR device is in no way different from the one behind having foldable smartphones. This is a hint that HTC could also join in at some point.
Related: Best HTC phones
Owned by Lenovo, Motorola is going through a turbulent time and it direly needs something to take it back to its glory days. With wireless charging becoming a thing, perhaps it’s time for the Moto Mods to flourish, but it seems the company will also not be shy at giving the foldable smartphone business a shot.
Speaking to Tech Radar at the MWC 2018, Lenovo CEO said that “with the new technology, particularly foldable screens, I think you will see more and more innovation on our smartphone design,” Do you need more evidence than this to know that Motorola has plans to release a foldable smartphone in future? No, you don’t! But when exactly this will happen remains a mystery.
Related: Best Motorola phones
Now, according to some patents filed by the company, it appears that Motorola is indeed working on a foldable smartphone. From the images, we can see that Motorola is going the typical way with an inward folding display that will probably have a hinge to support the two bending plates. Given that Motorola has had quite a number of phones that can fold in this manner, the choice here doesn’t surprise us. But of course, it’s not easy to make design conclusions based on patents, so we’ll have to wait and see what the company has in plans. Either way, we at least know that the Lenovo-owned company is living up to its statement.
Samsung started pushing for the current bezel-less design back in 2014 with the launch of the Galaxy Note Edge and in 2015 came the Galaxy S6 Edge and S6 Edge+. It took Google about four years before buying into the idea of slimmer bezels and it eventually ended up with the Pixel 2 XL, a device that has had a share of its own problems.
Despite the changes in display design, it is only with Android P that Google has introduced official support for display screens with various form factors such as the notch, multiple display screens, and foldable displays. There’s no way Google would add support for these designs and not have one of its own, is there?
At the CES 2009, Samsung showed off the first foldable OLED display and four years later at the CES 2013, the Korean company demoed the first foldable smartphone concept. So, what do these two cases tell us? They tell us that Samsung has been perfecting the foldable display technology for years and it’s almost time. But when exactly remains to be seen.
While Samsung looks almost certain to be the first to debut a true foldable smartphone, we cannot write off industry first ZTE, or even LG and Xiaomi, especially the latter. Chinese OEMs are known for their desire to be the first to certain technologies, something we even saw recently with Vivo’s move to be the first to debut a smartphone with in-display fingerprint scanning technology ahead of Samsung and co.
Even more interesting are developments coming from Microsoft and Apple camps pointing to foldable smartphones, but there’s little chance that any of them will beat Samsung to commercializing foldable smartphones.
Do you think foldable phones are the next big thing in the smartphone industry? Let us know in your comments below.