If you step back for a moment and consider the progress of our most favored computer form factor, the smartphone, the original innovative storm seems to have slowed to only occasional, fitful gusts of minor refinements. Certainly, the average mobile today is larger than Apple’s first iPhone, held up on stage by Steve Jobs on January 9, 2007. The bezel now runs almost to the edge, and frequently we see new styluses designed for writing on the phones, but pocketable mobile is essentially what it was more than a decade ago when the revolution really ramped up with Apple’s first.
What’s in the works at Samsung could change that. The company seems to be approaching the official debut of a phone that manages a larger screen by using a foldable design that opens a flexible screen.
Why would anyone want a phone so oversized that it needs to be folded before returning to their pocket? You might ask the same question of all those who today prefer a finger and pocket-stretching phablet-size phone such as the iPhone 8 Plus (5.5" screen) or the Samsung Galaxy S8+ (6.2" screen). A larger screen is simply easier to read and write on, and if you’re spending more time with the display in front of your face rather than against your ear, it might be something you would consider.
Several companies including LG and Lenovo are working on the new folding format, and along with Samsung they have demoed a variety of bendable displays. But Samsung seems only months away from releasing a smartphone that folds open to a small tablet. The original code name for the phone was Project Valley, but the popular name in the press is the Galaxy X.
Last September, Koh Dong-Jin, head of Samsung mobile, announced in Seoul that his company planned to release a device with a foldable display in 2018. Credibility for the claim was based on the company’s research going back to the Consumer Electronics Show in 2013 when they showcased a working flexible display at their booth.
But in January 2018, Samsung notified the South Korean press of some major delays and offered a new tentative schedule. The problems with engineering a foldable display that could be flexed thousands of times without damage would be worked out by March 2018. By September 2018, they expect to be producing the physical panels for the phone, and mass production for the Galaxy X won’t begin until November 2018. The consumer edition will be available in December 2018 or early 2019.
The biggest question besides when this will happen is what will the Galaxy X look like. Speculation in the media has been more fun than, I imagine, what the engineers at Samsung are facing with the actual project. A variety of images of concept phones, folding closed in rectangular quarters, opening to the size of something like an iPad, have appeared online and in YouTube presentations.
One of the more measured speculations describes a 7.3" screen that will fold and unfold without any trace of creasing or marks in a format that will resemble the size of the smaller 7" tablets in common use today. The other critical factor in the new design will be how slim the folded case will be in your hand or pocket.
The Galaxy line of Samsung’s mobiles has been anything but stagnant over the years. The company was laughed at when they introduced the plus size versions of the phone, but it wasn’t long before other manufacturers were scrambling to catch up. And apparently no one at Samsung felt bound by Steve Jobs’s conviction that no one wants a stylus with their smartphone. The Galaxy Note proved otherwise. And there was the curved edge of the screen with notifications tracking like a crawl line as your phone sits flat on your desk. Samsung has been a leading innovator in the mobile field, and at this point, it would seem risky to bet against their vision, even with a folding phone/tablet.