The rumors of a flexible and folding smartphone have been hot and heavy over the past year and are finally here. As with any new tech, some companies find a need to be first — enter Royole and their FlexPai folding smartphone. It’s technically “the first” but Samsung quickly stole the spotlight with its own introduction of their Infinity Flex Display smartphone.
Increased news, rumors, and commentary have been swirling around folding smartphones for the past week or so and have really taken off since the Infinity Flex Display was introduced. We’ve avoided reporting or commenting on these mostly to wrap our own heads around the new tech. There’s currently a lot of mixed emotions and opinions over the idea with some supporting the idea and others not so much.
Mike Elgan penned a piece for Computerworld called “The dark side of folding-screen and dual-screen smartphones.” In that article, Elgan lays out 7-reasons why we should ignore the hype around folding smartphones. In brief, here are the 7 reasons he gives for ignoring folding smartphones:
- Cost: Samsung’s $2,000USD starting price is a cost most consumers can’t or won’t pay.
- Battery Life: Smartphone displays are a huge drain on the battery and more screen means more battery which equates to a thicker phone.
- Screen damage: Creases and bends at the displays weak point could lead to long-term damage. Screens inside and out are hard to protect.
- Inelegant design: The designs are clunky and ugly.
- Size and bulk: Apple keeps making their devices thinner and lighter with small bezels. These folding smartphones are going the opposite direction no one wants a phone they can’t fit into their pocket.
- Lack of apps: Android suffers from fragmentation and folding smartphones will require a custom OS so the app ecosystem support will be small.
- Better alternatives: Why buy a folding smartphone when you can have a phone and a tablet. Or use your smartphone’s ability to plug into a monitor.
Elgan’s reasons are truncated here so please, go read his article to get his entire thought process. Elgan ends his piece by saying the same tech journalists who have hyped folding smartphones will “pan the products” and “folding-screen phones will fold.”
With the introduction of the Samsung Infinity Display folding smartphone, I think some of Elgan’s concerns were addressed. The video is above and the part you want to watch starts at 1:24:55. I’m going to offer some simple counterpoints to his arguments. It’s important to note that I’m still on the fence about folding smartphones. I’m not saying Mike is wrong here but I am simply playing devil’s advocate to give you something to gnaw on.
Yes, the Samsung Infinity Display folding smartphone along with the FlexPai will be costly. This is true of a lot of new technology and is mostly due to the fact that first generations are generally a lower production run and new components need to be designed and manufactured. If folding smartphones take off, I would expect prices to come down. Folding smartphone pricing coming down may also push the price of single-screen smartphones down at some point.
Battery technology and display technology are getting better. The iPad Pro has really amazing battery life with a large screen. Initial battery life might be an issue with the Samsung Infinity Display folding smartphone but like any new tech, it will improve over time. Good battery life is a bit of a subjective issue as well. Personally, I think any device that can get me through a full day of use has good battery life. I don’t mind plugging in overnight. Others would disagree.
Undoubtedly Samsung has thought about this and is performing stress testing on the new Infinity Display technology. I will concede this one to Mike as I’m not sure exactly how companies will protect these displays.
I will agree with Mike that the FlexPai isn’t the most attractive device in the world but we really don’t know what the Samsung Infinity Display looks like exactly. It certainly looks smaller and more streamlined than the FlexPai. Design is an evolution. Yes, the first generation folding smartphones might not be as striking as we’d like but compare the Galaxy Note1 to the Galaxy Note9 and you can see just how design evolves. I’m confident Samsung will make that better and don’t think Apple isn’t testing foldable phones.
Size and bulk
This was certainly a concern of mine when I first saw the FlexPai but Samsung’s onstage demo gives me hope. Seeing the device being pulled from a coat pocket means that Samsung is thinking about size and bulk. Yes, these phones are going to be bulkier than a single screen device but I don’t think everyone will be turned off by that.
Lack of apps
I’ll agree with Mike that Android has had a fragmentation problem but Google has been working hard to lessen that. That commitment shows with Google actively working on making Android support foldable displays. Samsung and Google are working on this together to attempt to make the user experience what it should be. That being said, Google isn’t always successful with follow through on some of these projects but I think they at least deserve the benefit of the doubt.
Sure I could pack up my smartphone and tablet and go about my day switching between the two. Sure, I could plug my phone into a monitor and have a desktop experience. Of course, the Galaxy Note 9 and iPhone XS Max already have sizeable screens. But why not have a phone and tablet both in one hand and only need to worry about one device? Given that the Samsung Infinity Display folding smartphone is going to be costly, I believe Samsung will pack in the same premium features they do in the Note9. That means an excellent CPU/GPU combo along with the best cameras they have.
Will foldable smartphones take off?
Like almost any new technology, I do believe the foldable smartphone hype is going to increase. I also agree with Mike that there will be some in the tech world that hype these devices only to criticize them later but how different is that from any other new device? The iPhone had its fair share of glorious hype and extreme criticism and look what its become.
I’m not saying I think the Samsung Infinity Display folding smartphone is going to be a runaway hit. But I do think it deserves a chance to find its feet and walk. It could very well never get past the crawling stage but then it could easily take off. Its only limitations are the technology it’s built on and the market accepting the new device.