2019 Tech Predictions: Samsung's Folding Screen Finally Reinvents the Phone

Samsung could be onto a winner.

Samsung may be on the cusp of a smartphone revolution. The company announced its groundbreaking Galaxy F concept at its November developer conference in San Francisco. Shrouded in darkness, the event confirmed the existence of the long rumored foldable smartphone. Inverse predicts that this phone’s launch in 2019 will chart an ambitious new trajectory for handsets.

As most manufacturers have settled on the archetypical design — six-inch glass slabs that slide into a pocket — the foldable phone could prove an ideal alternative by marrying older flip phone technology with organic light-emitting diodes and enables bendable screens.

We’re reporting on 19 predictions for 2019. This is #8.

Samsung’s device us rumored to offer a 4.58-inch screen on the outside, with a folded-7.3-inch screen on the inside that enables the larger, tablet-size apps. Who needs an iPad and iPhone when you can have both at once?

Samsung hasn’t yet offered a release date for its phone, but Justin Denison, SVP of mobile product marketing, said that “we hope we’ve inspired you until the next Unpacked where you’ll see more of this technology in action.” This suggests the company would release a new device in March of next year.

Folding Into Life

Samsung has been toying with the idea for a while. It first presented the “Youm” concept phone at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas back in January 2013:

Since then a few of competitors have entered the scene. The Royole FlexPai curls a 7.8-inch screen over its rear, the opposite folded direction of the Samsung. The Cosmo Communicator offers a two-inch touchscreen on the outside and a four-inch screen on the inside, the latter of which isn’t folded but was enough to excite backers to smash its crowdfunding target in just four hours.

While the mid-nineties was rife with bizarre phone designs from the likes of Nokia, this sort of whimsical innovation fell to the wayside with the launch of the iPhone in 2007. Since then, almost all mainstream phones have used the same look. Far from adding a new smartphone feature, Samsung’s upcoming phone could be the first major reimagining of the smartphone in nearly 12 years.

“The Samsung phone will be very expensive and it’s out there to show that Samsung innovates at the top,” Melissa Chau, associate research director for IDC, tells Inverse. “It does give Samsung a head start into a category that will eventually make big waves, but the first device will likely not be the one to do it yet.”o

Fold, or Flop?

Reimagining the smartphone and actually selling the public on its vision are two different things. Getting people to migrate from iPhone-like handsets will require considerable developer support to help move seamlessly between apps. Google has pledged that its upcoming Android Q will support the design, stating that users should “expect to see Foldables coming from several Android manufacturers, including one Samsung previewed today and plans to offer next year.”

Google is already working on some solutions to the design challenges presented by foldable smartphones, for example by figuring out how to conserve battery, by having one screen switch off when the it’s not in use. But this is one of many shifts the company’s engineers will have to figure out, and some potential partners could decide it’s not worth the effort for an initially niche market.

“As far as foldable screens go, I think we are still three years or more before these devices make a meaningful impact on the industry, mainly because of the technical complexity that will come along with these form factors,” Ryan Reith, vice president for IDC, tells Inverse. “Additionally, most applications will have to be redesigned for these products which will take time.”

A new form factor doesn’t spell success in and of itself. For every iPhone, there’s the 2007 note-quite-a-laptop Palm Foleo, or the 2016 BlackBerry Priv with a physical keyboard, neither of which spelled success.

19 Predictions for 2019: What Inverse Thinks

One of the iPhone’s biggest successes was combining utility from multiple devices together, as Steve Jobs famously claimed it was a phone, an iPod and an internet communicator all in one. Samsung could take this one step further to combine these functionalities with those found in a tablet. A number of questions remain about the actual appearance of the device and third party app support, but the fundamental concept shows promise. Inverse predicts the Samsung phone will mark the start of a growth into a new era for smartphones.

Related video: Royole’s FlexPai is a Foldable Smartphone