The very first phone I sold – way back in 1990 – was an NEC P3 but the most popular handheld mobile I sold around that time was the Motorola 8000. In much the same way that Apple started the smartphone revolution, the Motorola ‘brick phone’ started the mobile revolution. It was big. 330mm tall by 90mm deep and 45mm wide and, by mobile standards, a massive 784 grams. A 10-hour battery charge would result in a phone that you could use for a total of 30 minutes of talk time.

As the years went by and I sold more and more mobiles, the phones progressed quickly both increasing in features and diminishing in size. Within ten years the premium phone was a Nokia 8850. The size made a mockery of the massive first phones I used to sell. The 8850 measured 100mm by 17mm by 44mm wide and tipped the scales at a tiny 91 grams.

When we look at the phones today, it appears that the trend is going the other way. New models are increasing the screen size – and hence the overall size of the phone. I often joke that all I want is a phone that is smaller than the old Nokia 8850 but has a reverse-Tardis feature that delivers a screen size larger than an iPhone Xs Max. Maybe a mid-air hologram or a built-in magnifying glass? I don’t really care how it is delivered but I am the consumer and that is what I want! It sounds like I am being a little unreasonable with my request.

Or maybe not.

It appears that I am not the only one that wants a small physical size but a big screen. Flexible or bendable screens have been discussed for some years but it always seemed to be fanciful thinking – or so I thought. Samsung has just demonstrated their new Infinity Flex Display. 

I must stress that you can’t buy this phone yet but Samsung has demonstrated a device on stage at a recent developer conference.

At first glance, the device looks like a normal modern smartphone. A screen on one side and a plain back. You can use the screen and phone as you normally would a normal phone. But…unlike any smartphone before it, you can unfold the phone and there, in the middle of the now flat interface, is a screen the size of a Tablet device. Apps that are open on your normal smartphone screen automatically transition to the unfolded device – and back again when you fold the device back together. It sounds like the sort of device you would see in the movies but this is real.

The operating system preferred by Samsung is Android and the interface needs to support foldables. As part of the demonstration, Android also announced that their operating system is now supporting foldables which they described as a new form factor coming ‘next year’. Samsung executives explained that they have been working on a foldable phone for years but needed to invent a screen and new adhesives that could be folded and unfolded thousands of times without cracking. I think there will be some millennials who will be keen to test out the result of all that development work. Even something as flexible as paper will eventually tear when you fold and unfold it too many times.

Samsung are officially the largest mobile phone manufacturer in the world by sheer numbers but don’t expect them to have it all their own way. Huawei and LG are both working on foldable phones and a small Californian company called Royole recently announced the ‘FlexPai’ which is their foldable phone.

Once the technology is mastered, it opens up a world of possibilities. Newspapers that are rolled up and receive the latest daily newspaper automatically. Watches that wrap around your wrist. TVs that adapt to the shape of a wall. Items that I can’t even dream of will be commonplace in the next decade based on this technology. Technology is an exciting industry to be involved with!

Mathew Dickerson

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