Bend It: Smartphone Makers Hope to Soon Be Graded on the Curve

Carl Weinschenk

Smartphones remain a mammoth and growing category. The bloom is a bit off the rose, however: A common thought is that the introductions of a few years ago that generated excitement and buzz are a thing of the past simply because all the cool features that people really want have been introduced. It’s hard to get people to wait in line overnight to buy a phone that has a slightly better camera than the one in their pocket.

The industry may have at least one more glitzy move up its sleeve, though: bendable and foldable phones. Samsung is thought to be the manufacturer most set on this innovation. The key is creating a pliable screen. The Verge reported yesterday that the company’s Principal Engineer, Kim Tae-woong, said that foldable screens are coming, though a bit later than originally anticipated.

Bloomberg reported last year that Samsung would release two bendable phones this year. That won’t happen, The Verge says, because its current bezel-free phones are selling well and it is still perfecting the bendable technology.

The foldable and bendable phone category is heating up. GizBot reported last month that Xiaomi has filed for a patent in China for a foldable phone. There is little information available about the company’s plans. The story mentions that Nokia and Oppo are also working on foldable phones.


The introduction of flexibility into the mix may stimulate other advances. Bendability may be combined with sensors in the not-too-distant future. A story (and interesting short video) at GineersNow details advanced research now underway at the University of British Columbia on flexible sensors that can be used as screens. The inexpensively made clear sensors are stretchable, flexible and can even be rolled up. The researchers say that they can be used for mobile devices, wearable computer equipment, and even as robotic skin. There is no reason to believe that similar research is not going on elsewhere, including with device manufacturers.

It seems that the curving and bending of phones will be gradual. The Nikkei Asia Review reported this week that Apple has ordered enough bendable organic light-emitting diode (OLED) panels to make 70 million iPhone 8s from Samsung Electronics. The site says that the size of the order suggests that Apple expects the phones “to fly off the shelves.” Some of the phones may be sold in 2018, the report says.

It will be just the beginning of the bending process. The screens, according to the story, will only be “slightly curved.”

Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at cweinsch@optonline.net and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.


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