Samsung is getting all excited about its upcoming curved smartphone, but while Samsung is one of the very biggest names in phone tech right now, it's not the only one thinking about making a phone that's not a big, flat slate: LG is making one, too.
In fact, LG is pushing very hard, and is sharing details on the tech inside the phone even before we really know what the phone looks like. This tells us something. It tells us the curved smartphone isn't the next phone paradigm—but the secrets inside it are.
Both LG and Samsung are touting the clever technology behind the OLED screens that will make their curved phones possible. The trick here is that instead of being machined on a solid backplate, like many LCD displays, the new OLED screen is mounted on plastic. This makes it bendable, and therefore much harder to damage. The tech has been bubbling under the radar for a while, but LG and Samsung have clearly pushed it to the point where it's ready to be manufactured at consumer-grade levels. In the curved phones, the OLED plastic display will simply be bent to conform to the curve of the external glass-based screen.
Separately, LG has shown the world its rather amazing Cable Battery, which is a radical reinvention of the typical slab-like rechargeable battery that sits inside everyone's smartphone, tablet, remote control car, and more.
The Cable Battery, as its name suggests, is shaped like a rope and can be bent, tied, contorted, and twisted into some surprising shapes with little impact on its voltage output. Furthermore, it's designed to be used in low-voltage devices so it doesn't heat up, and it's also waterproof. The company has worked on the technology to the point where it's ready for mass production. It is probably crucial to making a curved smartphone with a pronounced bend—something that would be a problem for a traditional slab lithium battery.
Both the smartphones that LG and Samsung will release soon are not going to be "bendy," it's worth remembering—they'll have traditional components other than the OLED screen and, at least on LG's part, a bendy battery, and they'll have a permanent curve. The world probably isn't ready for a fully bendable phone, and I personally question the utility of a curved smartphone screen in the first place because of the way it will change how gestures "feel" to the user when they use it in portrait or landscape mode. Neither phone is likely to reinvent the current smartphone paradigm.
But that's okay. Because all these phones are, really, are showcases for the new technology that makes them work—and this tech is going to change electronics as you know it.
Think about it: an unbreakable, bendable, low-power screen that's pretty cheap to make and a bendy, waterproof, rechargeable battery. Those steel poles on a subway car—how about small wraparound video screens at eye level? Car instrument panels that are more than mere plastic-shaded covers on your dashboard, that instead bend and flex over the contours to make for better readability? Next-generation Google Glass displays that are mere wisps of curved plastic in the air? Large, portable screens that you just roll up when you need to go mobile? Batteries that fit in the arms of Glass-like headsets? Power cells for your tablet or laptop that fit as much battery as possible into every nook and cranny inside the case? Wearable devices with a battery concealed in a necklace?
Basically, what LG and Samsung are doing is setting themselves up as core suppliers for other manufacturers who will use their screen and battery tech in new devices—the best of which probably hasn't been dreamed up yet.
Curved smartphones? Meh.