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Samsung Electronics

Samsung just unveiled its Infinity Flex foldable smartphone, but you’ll have to look closely

  • The 7.3-inch phone was revealed onstage, but journalists and developers were denied the chance to touch or get close to the mysterious device
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 November, 2018, 7:34am
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 November, 2018, 11:05pm

Samsung Electronics unveiled its much-anticipated foldable phone in San Francisco on Wednesday, urging Android developers to start writing apps for it.

Samsung needs to get the foldable phone right to reverse steep declines in profit for its mobile division and restore some of the cachet its brand has lost to Apple Inc.

Foldable phones promise the screen of a small tablet in a pocket-sized device.

Justin Denison, senior vice-president of Samsung Electronics America’s Mobile Product Strategy and Marketing, was on stage when he showed a prototype with a screen he said measured 7.3 inches diagonally. The screen was dubbed the “Infinity Flex Display”.

Chinese display maker Royole unveils first foldable smartphone with a price tag in line with iPhones

Folded in two it appeared to resemble a thick phone, but Samsung did not give media or developers a chance to touch or see the device up close.

During the presentation, Samsung also disguised the rest of the phone’s design by covering everything beyond the screen with extra casing - similar to how prototype cars are camouflaged during street testing.

The basics, however, are clear. The device looks like a standard smartphone when closed. It opens like a book to reveal another 7.3-inch display, which would be one of the largest phone screens ever released. It will be big enough to run three apps side by side, up from two on the Note 9, Samsung’s most-recent large smartphone.

The company said the display can be folded hundreds of thousands of times. Samsung said it is also exploring screens that roll and stretch, but didn’t preview devices with those technologies.

“The display is the foundation for the smartphone of tomorrow,” Denison said.

“When it’s open, it’s a tablet offering a big-screen experience. When closed, it’s a phone and fits neatly inside your pocket.”

Infinity Flex screens are made to endure repeated folding and unfolding, according to Denison.

Dave Burke, vice-president of engineering for Google’s Android software platform, told a Google conference in California that Samsung planned to introduce a new Android-based device early next year.

“We expect to see foldable products from several Android manufacturers,” he said.

Samsung said it would be ready for mass production in the coming months.

Analyst Bob O’Donnell with Technalysis Research said that while the bendable screen provided a wow factor, shoppers may not like the thickness of the folded phone or its price tag.

“They’ll have to prove that it’s more than just a gimmick,” said O’Donnell. “But it’s smart to open it up to developers early to do different types of experiences.”

Maribel Lopez, an analyst at Lopez Research, said that the product would likely be relatively expensive in the near term.

“We’re talking about brand new materials that have been made for this and also a new manufacturing process,” said Lopez.

The South Korean tech company is among a handful of developers working on foldable phones.

China’s Huawei Technologies Co Ltd has said it is planning to launch a 5G smartphone with a foldable screen in mid-2019.

Samsung and Huawei, however, have been beaten to the market by Royole, a Chinese display making start-up, which last week unveiled a foldable Android phone with a 7.8 inch screen, priced from around US$1,300. Royole said it would start filling orders in late December.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse and Bloomberg