Sam­sung’s next phone folds up like a book

The Herald (Rock Hill) - - Business - BY GE­OF­FREY A. FOWLER

Sam­sung Elec­tron­ics on Wed­nes­day of­fered a peek at a fu­ture phone that un­folds like a book to re­veal a 7.3-inch screen in­side. Part pocket-size flip phone, part tablet, it’s the most in­ter­est­ing idea in smart­phone de­sign for years.

We think of a smart­phone screen as a rigid piece of glass that’s lim­ited by the size of the de­vice it­self. But Sam­sung’s so-called In­fin­ity Flex Dis­play folds, un­folds and re­folds to pack up into a smaller form.

This origami screen is bound for a big phone launch, but Sam­sung didn’t of­fer a name, price or even a time line other than 2019. The Korean elec­tron­ics gi­ant showed the new dis­play tech­nol­ogy at its an­nual San Fran­cisco de­vel­oper con­fer­ence in the hopes of woo­ing app mak­ers to cre­ate ex­pe­ri­ences that take ad­van­tage of it.

In an in­ter­view, the CEO of Sam­sung’s mo­bile di­vi­sion, DJ Koh, said the fold­ing phone is no gim­mick. “In terms of pro­duc­tiv­ity, al­ways a big­ger screen is bet­ter,” he said. “If we made a much big­ger screen than the Note, then it would be­come a tablet. So why don’t we think about fold­ing? We started from this sim­ple idea three or four years ago.”

Folded up, the de­vice has a screen on its front. When opened, the in­te­rior screen lays flat – with lit­tle hint of a crease – to show a widescreen ver­sion of what­ever app had been pre­vi­ously run­ning on the front.

How did they make the screen lie flat? Koh said Sam­sung has had bend­able OLED screens for years, but they’ve been fixed be­hind glass. The fold­ing phone’s in­te­rior screen uses a dif­fer­ent kind of com­pos­ite poly­mer trans­par­ent ma­te­rial that can with­stand be­ing opened or closed at least 300,000 times.

Sam­sung helped cre­ate the big-phone trend that has be­come the stan­dard with de­vices such as Ap- ple’s iPhone XS Max. But across the in­dus­try, smart­phone de­signs have been more about in­cre­men­tal im­prove­ments than bold new ideas – and con­sumers, un­sur­pris­ingly, have waited longer and longer to up­grade.

Chi­nese tele­com gi­ant Huawei has also teased that it is work­ing on a fold­ing phone that could re­place a com­puter.

What will we do with that big screen? Koh has a few ideas – play games, watch video and mul­ti­task with up to three open apps – but re­al­izes Sam­sung needs soft­ware and user ex­pe­ri­ence help to make the new kind of phone use­ful be­fore it goes on sale. “We can­not make it hap­pen on our own,” he said.

Sam­sung also sought help from Google, whose An­droid soft­ware pow­ers the phone and will need to be tweaked to take ad­van­tage of it. “There’s lots of chal­lenges we need to over­come to­gether,” Koh said.

The col­lab­o­ra­tive ap­proach also makes Sam­sung dif­fer­ent from Ap­ple, which usu­ally keeps un­fin­ished new tech­nolo­gies un­der wraps. “It’s a blank can­vas for us to cre­ate some­thing to­gether,” said Justin Deni­son, a se­nior vice pres­i­dent for Sam­sung Elec­tron­ics Amer­ica.

DAVID PAUL MOR­RIS Bloomberg

Justin Deni­son, se­nior vice pres­i­dent of Sam­sung Elec­tron­ics Amer­ica, speaks Wed­nes­day while hold­ing the new In­fin­ity Flex smart­phone at Sam­sung’s de­vel­op­ers con­fer­ence in San Fran­cisco.

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