Samsung’s been working on foldable display technology for a few years, and rumor has it that the company eventually plans to release a phone that can unfold to reveal a tablet-sized screen thanks to a flexible OLED display panel.
This would give Samsung’s phone a key advantage that the rumored dual-screen ZTE Axon M lacks: a seamless design since there’d be a single display that folds in half rather than two displays, each with their own bezel.
But according to a report from ETNews, Samsung’s phone may fold in the opposite direction of ZTE’s… which is a shame because I think ZTE may have it right.
So here’s the thing: there are two ways you can create a phone with a foldable display that unfurls to become a tablet-sized screen:
- A display that folds inward, so that when you fold the device in half the display is hidden and protected by the exterior of the case… like a book
- A display that folds outward, so that when you fold the device in half one part of the screen is on the front and the other is on the back… so you can use half a screen in phone mode or the whole screen in tablet mode
According to ETNews, Samsung had originally been developing the technology for the book-like version of a foldable display, but then switched gears and started developing an outward-folding display.
The inward-folding technology is said to be pretty robust at this point, while outward-folding display technology is still a work in progress. But outward makes a lot more sense if the goal is to release a dual-purpose device that works as both a phone and a tablet. An inward-folding display makes sense for a tablet that you can fold in half and put in your pocket.
While the ZTE Axon M has two screens instead of one, leaked pictures of the device suggest it folds outward, which means that at least one screen is always visible. That means you can pick up the Axon M and start using it as a phone right away, and unfold the device to get more screen space.
It sounds like Samsung was planning to do something similar with its foldable AMOLED display… but in an effort to bring something to market sooner rather than later, Samsung has opted for a simpler use of the technology. And that could mean that the first Samsung device to feature a foldable display will basically have two modes: tablet, or off.
Or maybe Samsung will release a device with an inward-folding display on one side and a smaller phone-like display on the other, as shown in a cringe-worthy video from 2013.
That way you’d be able to use the smaller screen in phone mode, but open up the device and use the bigger screen in tablet mode.
Or maybe the ETNews report is wrong. There are plenty of possibilities.
But if Samsung is pivoting back to an inward-folding display, it could be because the company wants to bring something to market before there’s too much competition in this space. In addition to ZTE’s upcoming Axon M, Lenovo has been showing off a foldable tablet prototype for a while, and rumor has it that Microsoft is developing a “Surface Phone” device that may also feature a folding display for use in tablet and phone modes.