Samsung announced today at its developer conference in San Francisco that it will soon sell smartphones that fold out like a wallet to double the size of their displays.
The company showed off a prototype phone with a small screen on one side, and a large screen on the other that folds out to a tablet-sized 7.3 inches. Samsung says it is also working on other form factors, including rollable and stretchable displays.
The user interface of the new devices will use the two screens to enable “true multitasking” use cases. The announcement comes on the same day that Google announced that its Android operating system will support foldable displays. And a Google Android exec was on hand to tell the Samsung developers more about it.
“The core benefit of a foldable smartphone is that the user can have the benefit of a larger display, but can still fit it into their pocket, coat, or purse,” said Moor Insights & Strategy principal analyst Patrick Moorhead. “It also needs a new UI that scales between smartphone and tablet and therefore Samsung introduced One UI.”
Samsung said that because the various layers of the display now must move in relation to each other, it had to develop new display materials and redesign some of the underlying components. Samsung’s display business sells displays for many consumer tech companies and many types of devices.
Samsung showed a prototype device from the stage:
— Tom Warren (@tomwarren) November 7, 2018
The new smart displays will go into production “in the coming months,” Samsung says. When the first Samsung flexible display device comes to market is still unclear.
Samsung executives today harkened back to 2011 when the South Korean tech giant released the first big-display smartphones, which, at the time, were dubbed “phablets.” The big phones created a sizable uptick in the company’s smartphone sales, and indeed made Samsung a top smartphone maker. Samsung believes that the new foldable displays will create a similar renaissance in its devices business.
Technalysis Research chief analyst Bob O’Donnell says Samsung’s announcement is a substantial development in the smartphone space. “This is the first ‘wow’ moment we’ve had in smartphones for awhile,” he says. O’Donnell, who started his analyst career specializing in displays for IDC, says Samsung has been working on, and talking about, its foldable displays for a decade, but only now has the company arrived at the underlying technologies that will let it mass produce the displays.
The benefit of the fold-out display is that users can have a larger screen area to get more meaning out of apps like maps, and more fun out of gaming. The interaction of the two screens–the small one and the fold-out one–on the new devices may present cool uses cases of their own. O’Donnell points out that Samsung announced the dual-screen technology at a developer conference, in part, because it wants developers to imagine the use cases that consumers will want and need.