An Unexpected Name Is Joining the Race to Develop Foldable Smartphones

What are all the proposed foldable devices good for?

2019 is already shaping up to be the year of the foldable phone. It’s true that last year saw a profusion of mostly-janky prototypes already, but that will soon change. Incumbents like Samsung say their take on the concept is imminent, and the companies behind those early prototypes will have had extra time to refine their wares. Now, Microsoft is reportedly joining the race to figure out how this next-generation of mobile hardware can become as indispensable a part of modern life as the now-humble smartphone.

It’s a particularly interesting development, as the creator of the Windows operating system has a notorious track record with smartphones, going so far as to shutter its mobile devision on October 2017. But unlike iPhones which have always been supposed to make you cool; foldable phones are being touted as productivity tools by letting you take advantage of running two programs at once on multiple screens. It makes sense, then, that Microsoft could see these folding phones as a chance for its mobile rep to make a serious comeback.

The news that Microsoft is plans to bring foldable and dual-screen devices to market, and is developing software for them, was first reported by the The Verge Tuesday. Twitter sleuths also uncovered hints in Windows 10 code that suggest the company already has a whole team in place for the project. But what could Microsoft be planning for these devices?

Microsoft’s All-in-One Foldable Laptop, Tablet, and Smartphone

The company has developed two-in-one devices in the past, the Microsoft Surface is a currently painted as a laptop-tablet hybrid, plus its reportedly working on a secretive dual-screen device with Intel.

Microsoft patent diagram that may demonstrate Andromeda.
Microsoft patent diagram that may demonstrate Andromeda.
microsoft andromeda patent
The device when folded.

Microsoft’s shadowy project “[Andromeda]https://www.inverse.com/article/46031-microsoft-andromeda-patent-reveals-incredible-mini-surface-device(https://www.inverse.com/article/46031-microsoft-andromeda-patent-reveals-incredible-mini-surface-device)” has the potential to become an all-in-one screen that users could turn into a laptop, tablet, smartphone, and a wearable. Patented blueprints of the device were unearthed and sell it as being the only screen you’ll need.

Will Microsoft’s Foldable Concept Be Able to Stand Out?

Samsung’s upcoming foldable could be unveiled as early as February and LG could potentially drop a competing device before 2019 is over. While both devices are rumored to be designed differently, early glimpses suggest a largely similar idea: fused tablet-slash-smartphones.

The Galaxy F will probably be the first one to market out of the two and the device is expected to have three screens. These include a 7.29-inch tablet display that can be folded into a 4.6-inch smartphone screen, plus a rear 3.5-inch screen that could serve as a notifications display when it’s folded up.

samsung foldable phone
Unofficial 3D renders of the Galaxy F.

LG’s foldable phone future is hazier. The company confirmed to a Korean news Yonhap in October of last year that it is working on a flexible device, but there are a couple of renderings making the rounds that conflict as to what it could wind up looking like. Regardless of its final form, it seems like LG is posing it as a tablet-smartphone hybrid like the Galaxy F.

The first design published by LetsGoDigital alleges the device will be like a scroll users can open to various lengths in different scenarios. The second is a booklet design, which looks very similar to the Galaxy F but only seems to have two screens.

As Always, Apple Is Taking Its Time

Apple’s plans for a foldable phone are still very much up in the air. Patent filings have revealed that the company is working on the hardware tech to keep its displays from breaking when they bend. But we’ve only one teensy look at how this technology could eventually take shape.

A patent filing discovered in December of last year depicted an all-screen iPhone. Instead of being able to unfurl it, users could use all sides of the device opening up the possibilities to use it as a game controller.

It’s still too early to say how Apple will choose to go about a flexible device, and patent paperwork also revealed its working on a “hinge mechanisms” that would in theory let users open a screen like a book. If the first shots fired in the foldable phone wars establish this as the design of choice, Apple will be ready.

Motorola’s Flexible RAZR May Fold but It’s Still Just a Smartphone

Finally, the Motorola’s RAZR foldable phone concept seems like it should be in the mix, but it seems more like a throwback. The company filed a design patent for its planned flexible smartphone in May and it looked shockingly similar to the old school, Motorola RAZR of yesteryear.

Since the patent has come to light, the internet has speculated as to what a final product could look like. But if these designs are anything close to the final version, it’s hard to see how Razr’s concept could serve as two devices in one. It would just be a long smartphone that can be flipped shut to become shorter.

Regardless of who does and doesn’t seem worthy of inclusion in this list, the fact that so many companies are designing a foldable phone is an industry sign of where smartphone innovation is going. While they could of course wind up being a flop with consumers, get ready for a lot more foldable phone test-runs in 2019.