Samsung seems to be rushing the development of its foldable smartphone, but why?


With today's leaked photo of ZTE's foldable Axon M smartphone, a curious question sprung up in many people's minds: in a foldable smartphone, which fold direction is the better one, inwards or outwards? While the only two implementations of the idea we can think of —  the Sony Tablet P (which is phone-sized by today's standards, nevermind the name) and the Kyocera Echo — have used a design where the screens point to the inside when the device is closed, the Axon M does just the opposite.

And such a debate might not seem like that big of a deal right now, considering foldable smartphones are pretty much not a thing on the market, they will certainly become the talk of the town starting next year, when Samsung will release its own take on the idea (smart flip phones notwithstanding).

But unlike its competitors' offerings, Samsung's foldable smartphone will actually feature a single display, which itself will fold in half alongside the body of the device. This is no doubt a feat only achievable by the Korean giant, whose Samsung Display subsidiary is the largest mobile OLED panel manufacturer, to the point where even Apple, its largest competitor in the smartphone space, has to use its displays.

But the question above still stands: inwards or outwards? According to a new report from ETNews, it's actually the former —but the story isn't quite as simple as that.

According to sources, Samsung itself hasn't been entirely sure which direction to take its foldable display technology in: it initially started development with a fold-in design in mind 4 to 5 years ago, but then changed to an outward-facing design 1 to 2 years ago. However, reports indicate it has very recently switched back to its original idea, and it is speculated this is due to the inward-facing technology being considerably more mature.

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Such flip-flopping is a particularly interesting phenomenon, as the sources say that outward-facing foldable panels were Samsung Display's highest priority up until last year. Combine this with the fact Samsung officially confirmed the existence of its foldable device just this month, which presumably came very soon after the decision to go back to the inward-facing solution, and things start to look like a result of a very rushed decision.

On the surface, it sure seems that Samsung is reacting to some potential threat — the inwards facing technology has reportedly been in a near-ready state for years. And since we imagine ZTE (which is mostly popular for its cheaper devices) isn't a particularly big threat to Samsung, there may be other, more major players also gearing up to release its own foldable device soon.

And while many would be quick to cry Apple, we've heard of no such rumors — all signs currently point towards iPhone X-inspired designs going forward. But there is one big-name smartphone rumored to have a foldable design of its own: Microsoft's mythical Surface Mobile. And while the question of whether Redmond's unicorn is finally nearing release is debatable, it is still the most credible candidate for Samsung's fear we've heard of so far.

Of course, Lenovo has been showcasing a foldable tablet two years in a row now, while rival LG holds some patents for the idea, but these both feel like long shots. Just like ZTE, Lenovo isn't nearly as popular in the high end (including Moto devices), while LG's patents mean next to nothing until they get applied in practice — something we haven't heard of yet.

In any case, we still have some time until we find out. Samsung itself says the technology still needs some kinks worked out, while ETNews' sources claim the company is aiming to achieve 3R foldability (meaning the radius of the fold curve is no larger than 3mm). Or in other words, don't expect to see the device in the early months of 2018 — in fact, some rumors say it may turn out to be the next phone in the Note series, which traditionally launches in late summer.

But given Samsung's recent track record, the thing will most probably leak in full well before its release, so we'll surely get more info as our calendars roll over to 2018.

source: ETNews via The Investor

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