FLEXIBLE PHONE LANDS
Royole FlexiPai beats big players to market
flexible phones since 2011, and have seen impressive working prototypes from Lenovo and Samsung, but everyone has been beaten to market by Royole, with the world’s first commercial foldable phone. The company was started in 2012 by engineering graduates from Stanford, and has become a leader in thin and flexible displays.
The FlexiPai is a fairly heavy (0.7lb) and chunky device, with one fold in the middle. It transforms from a 7.8-inch tablet with a resolution of 1920x1440 into a dualscreen phone, with a third screen along the spine. Otherwise, it’s a full-featured smartphone, complete with dual high-res cameras. Power comes from a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8150 processor, and it runs Royole’s own Water OS, a fork of Android 9.0. Royole says the screen is “virtually” unbreakable, and has been tested to over 200,000 flexes. It’s not cheap, though—a Chinese version costs about $1,300, with 128GB of storage, and 6GB of RAM. Developer versions are available globally, but it’s unclear which markets will get an official launch. Using a custom OS is not ideal, although Alphabet is working on a version of Android for flexible phones.
Royole may be first, but the big players aren’t far behind. Samsung’s folding phone was first shown in concept in 2013; it’s due to be unveiled any moment now, although it’s unlikely to be on sale until next year. Lenovo has been showing working prototypes since 2016, and can’t be far behind. LG has invested $1.7 billion in new flexible screen production lines, and is rumored to be unveiling its phone in January. Huawei is expected to launch its offering within a year, too.
Cell phone formats have been through a few changes, from bricks down to tiny flip phones, then back up in size to large slabs, and now, it seems, into folding tablets. The FlexiPai is an interesting start, with more polished examples to follow soon.