A phone that can be the size of a tablet, but fold in half to fit in your pocket, seems like science fiction. Years ago it was rumored that Samsung was working on a display that would roll up like a newspaper and everyone exclaimed it was outlandish and impossible. But more and more phone manufacturers are showcasing this technology at expos, with each company competing to be the first to put out a functional, foldable smartphone.
Why You Want a Folding Phone
Think about the size of an average smartphone. Big enough to do the basics, but not huge. Now double the screen and take away some of the width, and you have a tablet with a screen big enough to read on, play games with and even do work with.
This is the benefit of a folding smartphone. When folded, the ‘front screen’ can still be used to make calls, run apps and check important things like the weather or your Facebook. But open it up and you have double the screen size. If you want a tab with a work document on one half, and a website on the other half, the large screen makes this possible. Watch pictures and video on a huge display and fold it up in your pocket when you’re done.
Are We Actually Going to See a Foldable Phone Anytime Soon?
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably heard about the Samsung fiasco with their new foldable technology. The Samsung Galaxy Fold was pushed back from an April release date when early versions of the phone’s screen were being damaged by folding them too hard or too often.
Other manufacturers, including a Chinese company called Royole and the third-largest smartphone manufacturer Huawei, have their own versions of a foldable smartphone being released within the next year. However, none of these phones have really been tested yet by actual people, and it is uncertain just how useful these are going to be.
But Are They Going to Be Practical?
The short answer: probably not, but it might be too early to say.
A major issue is going to be software compatibility. For an app to be able to function properly in all the folding options of the phone is going to take some work, and many smaller app developers simply won’t be putting the time into making their apps compatible until foldable phones really catch on.
Another problem is the hinge. Royole says that their prototype is good for about 200,000 folds before it breaks down, but that is a point of stress that is hard to determine until the unit is actually on the market for a while. (As Samsung discovered!) There is a very real chance that the phones actual physical case could have issues long before the hardware inside of it becomes dated.
The final reason that foldable phones are probably just a fad are that they’re simply unwieldy. It is a nice idea, but folding your phone out gives it a shape that isn’t really like a phone or tablet, but an awkward square. Tablets and phones are rectangles for a reason, after all. Holding a phone of this shape for an extended period of time will probably be uncomfortable, and if you’re not comfortable using it you’re just going to keep it folded… so what is the point anyway?
As more companies start producing and releasing foldable phones, it is possible that the issues that make foldable phones not viable to today’s market will become smaller, and a foldable phone will become more practical. However, it is unlikely that the direction we will see smartphones go within the next five years will be in this same form factor. There are too many issues, from comfort to size to practicality and price, to make it a real contender