Fri, Nov 09, 2018 - Page 10 News List

Smartphone makers expect boost from foldable screens

FLEXIBLE STRATEGY:An IDC analyst was skeptical about the durability of foldable phones, asking whether buyers would accept ‘a crease down the middle’ of their TV show


Samsung Electronics America Inc senior vice president of product strategy and marketing Justin Denison speaks during the Samsung Developers Conference in San Francisco, California, on Wednesday, where the firm showed off a new phone with a foldable screen.

Photo: Bloomberg

For the past few years, the smartphone industry has been searching for a breakthrough to revive a market mired in an innovation lull and a sales slump. A potential catalyst is on the horizon in the form of flexible screens that can be folded in half without breaking.

Samsung Electronics Co and several rivals are preparing to roll out such screens to make devices more versatile for work and pleasure. The foldable screens could increase display space to the size of a mini-tablet, but fold like a wallet so they revert to the size of regular phones. However, there are questions about price and durability.

If the new phones fulfill their makers’ ambitions, they could become a leap ahead for an industry whose origins can be traced to the old flip phones, which consumers once embraced as cool and convenient. However, foldable-screen phones would not need hinges, because they have continuous displays that can bend.

“We have been living in a world where the size of a screen could only be as large as the device itself,” Samsung senior vice president of mobile product marketing Justin Denison said on Wednesday. “We have just entered a new dimension.”

Except for a fleeting look at a device he held in a hand, Denison provided scant information about the phone.

Samsung said it is to be ready to hit the market at some point next year.

Worldwide smartphone sales have fallen from the previous year for four consecutive quarters, according to International Data Corp (IDC).

Add it all up, and smartphone sales declined by 4 percent in the 12 months ending in September, its data showed.

Samsung, the world’s leading seller of smartphones, suffered a 7 percent decline in shipments during that period, IDC calculations showed.

Yet it is not clear whether flexible-screen phones will have mass appeal, especially considering that the bendy devices are expected to cost more than US$1,000.

Royole Corp (柔宇科技), a small Silicon Valley company, is hoping to sell early versions of its FlexPai foldable-screen phone for US$1,300 to US$1,500 in the US — something that will not happen until next year, at the earliest.

For now, it will be available in China starting next month, at a price equivalent to about US$1,300.

While the idea of a device being able to bend into different shapes might sound good, IDC analyst Ramon Llamas is skeptical about how practical and durable they will be.

One of the biggest questions is whether the quality of the screens will degrade as they get repeatedly folded, he said.

“Are people really going to want to watch a Netflix show on these devices if there is a crease down the middle of it?” Llamas said.

Royole said its FlexPai can be bent more than 200,000 times without deteriorating.

Other foldable-screen phones running Google’s Android software are expected to be available, too.

Huawei Technologies Co (華為) last month confirmed that it is working on a phone with a flexible screen.

LG Electronics Co is widely expected to unveil one at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January next year.

“Everyone has been thinking about the same question: ‘What’s next? Is there nothing more from a smartphone?’” Royole CEO Bill Liu (劉自鴻) said.

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