There have been countless concepts and patent filings, but will we ever see foldable phones and tablets out in the wild? In this article, I want to take a look at the history behind the elusive foldable smartphone display and find out if or when we’ll actually be able to buy such a product.
Spoiler alert: It looks like it’s definitely happening. And if recent moves from Samsung, Huawei, and LG are anything to go by, we may see the first foldable smartphone products in 2019. If you want to miss the history of the foldable display, just skip down to the ‘Galaxy X rumours’ section.
The history of the foldable smartphone display
It makes sense to start at the beginning. It feels like we’ve been on this foldable device crumb trail for years, but the first crumb fell back in 2008. Yes, that’s right. 10 years ago, the first foldable concept from Samsung was out for everybody to see. This was back during the same year that the first iPhone launched.
It’s crazy to think that it’s been 10 years. In those 10 years, so much has changed in the smartphone industry. Ever since then, more hints at an upcoming foldable device from Samsung specifically have increased.
Fast forward to 2013. The iPhone 4S dropped as well as the Samsung Galaxy S4 - looking back now, the devices in 2013 are a long shot away from what they are today, but 2013 painted a strong picture of what the future was going to look like. We got to see a foldable concept ad from Samsung in CES 2013, too. They also showcased foldable display concepts on the showroom floor. It was clear at this point that Samsung was very serious about the whole foldable display game, but still it was still far too early in development for any real product to be on anybody’s minds.
Nothing too exciting happened for a couple years but then in 2015, the hype train really started to heat up. It seemed like new reports and leaks kept dropping month after month. I was incredibly excited at the time because so many outlets reported on Samsung dropping the first foldable smartphone in 2016 and 2017.
One strong reason for all of these reports was the roadmap Samsung shared. Pictured above, you can see Samsung’s roadmap from 2013 to 2017. Take a look at the display section. The curved display dropped as planned in the form of the Samsung Galaxy Round. It was an odd device that was more of a proof of concept than anything else. Unsurprisingly, it got very little attention. Samsung’s curved display dreams later transformed into the Edge to Edge display which was first spotted on the Samsung Galaxy S6 and it was an instant hit. Unfortunately, Samsung has yet to step out of the ‘curved’ stage in their roadmap and into the bendable or foldable stages.
Galaxy X rumours
Since the hype train started in 2016, rumours kept getting pushed out by outlets that suggested a Samsung foldable display smartphone really was coming. The biggest hit to catch people’s attention was this apparent Galaxy X device. In late 2017, the rumours surrounding this device hit an all time high.
Multiple outlets pointed out that Samsung were eyeing a 2018 release. Different release dates were pushed out but it seemed they held no truth as different dates kept passing. This is something that can happen frequently when a new story breaks out. One outlet will report on it, the next outlet will report on their report, and it continues as a strange game of Chinese whispers.
The end result is something that’s far from the truth. The real truth, however, came from a Bloomberg interview with Samsung’s president Koh Dong-jin. The bulk of the article is behind a paywall, but the initial summary confirms that Koh Dong-jin hopes to see Samsung launch a foldable device in 2018 and it may come under the Galaxy Note brand.
So, after 10 years of waiting, could we finally be getting our hands on the very first foldable smartphone? It’s actually a very real possibility. In fact, just this month, Samsung teased a new release on social media and their posts heavily hint at the showing of a foldable device.
The teaser video, which can be seen here, shows a small animation of a bent line folding out. It’s a long shot but many people pointed this out as being a reference to a folding display. If it proves to be true, then Samsung’s first foldable display will be unveiled on November 7 during the Samsung Developer Conference.
It’s been 10 years in the making, and for me personally, at least 4 years of holding my breath. Thankfully, if Samsung does fall through at SDC this year, other manufacturers may not be far behind. LG claimed a patent for a foldable display concept earlier this year and Huawei are also working on releasing a foldable display as soon as possible.
So, the foldable display race is on. I have so many questions. Who will launch the first device? How big will the displays be when folded out? Will they catch on and be the next mainstream devices? Or will they be a side piece to the main smartphone game, similar to what happened with smart watches? I guess only time will tell. One thing is for sure, SDC will be very interesting, so make sure to mark your calendars.