Tech Innovation

Could Samsung’s foldable, rollable tablets finally dethrone the iPhone?


The last big revolution in phone design was back in 2007 when Apple launched the first iPhone. Since then, our smartphones have got thinner, faster and their touchscreens have got bigger. The iPhone 6 was a case in point — 4.7mm thinner and 84 times faster than the original, with a bigger 4.7-inch screen.

Few would argue that the iPhone is still king of the smartphones. But is that really it? Are we stuck with incremental improvements to the 2007 form factor? Does anybody have the guts to try and out-iPhone the iPhone? Anybody?

Perhaps Samsung does, especially if the patents unearthed by Patently Mobile lead to devices that go into full production. They show a departure from the norm — rollable and foldable device concepts capable of hiding a large, tablet-sized screen in a compact, phone-sized form factor. This 2014 video shows them in tantalising concept form…

The foldable design gets the most attention in the Samsung video — an eye catching, ultra-thin device about the size of a pocket notebook. The Samsung patent describes “a foldout design that offers an exposed tab allowing users to quickly choose a favourite app as they unfold/open their device.” Clever.

The rollable design, meanwhile, resembles an ancient scroll with a flexible OLED display that pulls or slides out of a tube-shaped base. It’s not the stuff of science fiction either (although a similar communicator device appeared in the 1997 series Earth: Final Conflict). Samsung, Sony, LG, Philips and others are all working on perfecting flexible display technologies.

In fact, Samsung showed off a working prototype of its flexible screen technology at CES 2013. Two years on, the bendy panels might finally be ready for action.

Samsung has taken smartphone risks before. Its Galaxy Note model arguably inspired today’s ‘phablet’ handsets, while other design experiments have included the Galaxy S6 Edge (with one curved side), the Gear S (a smartwatch with a built-in GSM phone), the Galaxy S4 Zoom (half smartphone, half compact camera) and the Galaxy Beam (incorporating a DLP nHD projector).

Smartphones might have got faster, smarter and bigger since the iPhone launched in 2007. But who’s going to usher in the next mobile revolution? — Dean Evans (@evansdp)

Main image credit: Patently Mobile

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