Flip phone, we hardly know you.
Samsung Electronics on Wednesday offered a peek at future phones that stretched like a book to reveal a 7.3-inch screen inside. Flip cell phone pocket size, tablet parts, that's the most interesting idea that I've seen in the design of smart phones for years.
You have to see it to believe it – and unfortunately we only get jokes. We consider smartphone screens as rigid glass parts that are limited by the size of the device itself. But the Infinity Fold Display from Samsung, stretches and folds back to be packaged into a smaller shape.
This origami screen is bound to launch large phones, but Samsung does not offer names, prices or even timelines other than 2019. The Korean electronics giant showed new screen technology at the annual San Francisco developer conference in hopes of seducing app makers to create an experience that uses it.
In an interview, the CEO of Samsung's mobile division, DJ Koh, told me that folding phones were not a gimmick. "In terms of productivity, always a bigger screen is better," he said. "If we make a screen that is much bigger than the Note, then it will be a tablet. So why don't we think about folding? We started from this simple idea three or four years ago. "
Folded, the device has a screen on the front. When opened, the interior screen becomes flat – with a slight touch of the fold – to display the widescreen version of any application that has previously been running on the front.
How do they make the screen flat? Koh said Samsung had an OLED screen that could be bent for years, but they had been repaired behind the glass. The interior screen of a folding cellphone uses a different type of transparent composite polymer material that can withstand being opened or closed at least 300,000 times. We must see how it is used in the real world.
It's time for something new on mobile. Samsung helped create the trend of big-phones that became standard with devices like the Apple iPhone XS Max. But throughout the industry, smartphone designs are more about a gradual increase than bold new ideas – and consumers, not surprisingly, have waited longer and longer to improve.
The Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei has also teased that it works on folding cellphones that can replace computers.
What will we do with the big screen? Koh has a number of ideas – such as playing games, watching videos and multitasking with up to three open applications – but realizing Samsung needs software and user experience helps make new types of phones useful before they go on sale. "We cannot realize it ourselves," he said.
Samsung also asked for help from Google, whose Android software supports cellphones and needs to be tweaked to make use of it. "There are many challenges that we need to overcome together," Koh said.
The collaborative approach also makes Samsung different from Apple, which usually keeps new technology unfinished. "This is a blank canvas for us to create something together," said Justin Denison, senior vice president for Samsung Electronics America.