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

  • Light-weight and ultra-thin device can be bent more than 200,000 times without breaking
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 November, 2018, 6:16am
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 November, 2018, 7:23am

Royole Corp, a Chinese technology unicorn that makes the world’s thinnest full-colour flexible display, unveiled a foldable smartphone on Wednesday, offering a screen the size of an iPad-sized tablet with the ability to fold up so it fits in the palm of your hand.

Called the “FlexPai”, it comes with a 7.8-inch high-resolution screen with thickness of 7.6mm, the largest smartphone display size on the market today. But the retail price is also high, with the top end model going for 12,999 yuan (US$1,865), which compares to 8,999 yuan as the starting price for Apple’s latest flagship iPhones.

Royole’s lightweight and ultra-thin device, one tenth the weight of an LCD and one fifth the thickness, can be bent more than 200,000 times without breaking because of the materials used, Bill Liu Zihong, 35, co-founder, chairman and chief executive of the company said in Beijing on Wednesday.

“It is a historical moment we have been waiting for years [to see],” said Liu, who believes the technology will prove popular as it caters to the needs of consumers who want a large display-smartphone that is still easy to carry.

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Royole’s foldable phone, believed to be the first on the market, comes at a time when global smartphone brands are already looking for ways to equip flexible displays on their devices as they seek to update current handset designs that have largely remained the same since Apple introduced its first iPhone in 2007.

In early September, Samsung’s mobile division chief executive DJ Koh said it was “time to deliver” on a foldable device after consumer surveys carried out by the Korean electronics giant showed the market was ripe for such handsets.

Huawei Technologies, China’s leading smartphone brand, also revealed in September that it will introduce flexible displays on its next generation 5G handsets and that the new phones will be foldable.

During the Fifa World Cup in Russia this year, Royole incorporated a high-definition 2K resolution bendable display on hats and T-shirts which could stream content from a user’s mobile phone or tablet.

The Shenzhen company claims that its flexible screens integrate more than 20 million flexible ultra-precision devices, 6 million flexible integrated circuits, and nearly 100 kinds of micro-nano film materials to support the usage as a smartphone display.

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The new Royole phone, running an Google’s Android operating system and offering vivid colours and images on the display, also supports dual Sim-cards, fingerprint recognition, fast charging, and artificial intelligence graphics algorithm which can support 5G applications in the future.

A new player in smartphone design, Royole has allocated 200 million yuan to encourage developers to work on applications to support the flexible phones, Liu said.

The foldable phone, starting from 8,999 yuan for the 6G RAM and 128G storage model, will be available for sale on November 1 from the company’s website.

The six-year-old start-up, claiming a valuation of US$5 billion after its latest Series E round of funding, has 2,200 employees working in 20 countries. It started operations at its 1.1-million-square-foot production campus in Shenzhen in June this year. The plant will mass produce the fully flexible displays, which can be bent, folded or curled, for commercial use.