Samsung Officially Chickened Out for a 2017 Foldable Smartphone, but Apple has Shown us it has a Bright Future
In December Patently Apple posted a report titled "It's Crunch Time: Will Samsung Pull the Trigger and Launch a Foldable Smartphone in 2017 or Chicken Out?" While there was a moment that they might have given the project the green light, the Note7 fires have scared Samsung off from taking a gamble to be first to market with a foldable device this year. Yes, they chickened out as we thought they would.
In December we posted a report that covered South Korea's Kolon Industries who basically holds the technology that could make foldable devices possible. In fact they're a Samsung supplier for the material that will make it possible to mass produce foldable devices with some degree of certainty so that the displays won't be damaged by continual folding and unfolding them day in and day out. Yet Samsung tried to give themselves some free PR by saying that they would be first to deliver a foldable device and as early as at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) event in Barcelona later this month.
To not disappoint fans, Samsung is getting the news out that a foldable device in 2017 just isn't going to materialize. They mocked the Lenovo prototype, shown below, by saying indirectly that it didn't pass the test and that it was basically a failure in its present form. In other words, how dare they think that they could get ahead of the great Samsung on a technology that they've been working on for over a decade now. I'm sure that Samsung's commentary will give Lenovo the incentive to go full tilt to beat Samsung to market. So the war of words will be common between these competitors going forward and it'll be interesting to see how it all unfolds in 2018.
To make the myth sound good, the rumor is that Samsung will give customers samples of their foldable smartphones in exchange for feedback. Samsung Display, a division of Samsung, may want to rev up some business for next year and be a supplier to Chinese smartphone vendors. But Samsung Electronics is playing down a workable smartphone from them this year.
Korea's ETNews noted today that Samsung is "going to introduce their new foldable Smartphones and foldable displays to other companies that are invited to MWC at a private room. Their plan is to predict demands for foldable products after looking at responses from markets with its customers at the center.
Generally supply contracts of panels are prepared at least one year prior due to timing of production and supply. Samsung Display can predict demands for its displays in the future by examining responses from the markets towards its foldable displays at MWC."
In the end, a viable foldable display and device market is at best 20-24 months away. And who knows, within such a wide gap of time new problems or new competing products may arise rendering foldable smartphones irrelevant.
The good news however, is that a number of recent patent applications from Apple have shown us that the idea has been on their minds for some time now (one, two and three). In fact Apple's latest flexible display patent that came to light earlier today shows us that the flexible display concept goes far beyond mobile devices and into all-new classes of possible products down the road.
Beyond advanced accessories like super advanced iPad covers with built-in displays (one, two, three and four), Apple is already thinking way down the road to cover things like smart windows for a home or office through to smart clothing with built-in interfaces to in-vehicle applications and beyond.
So while the flexible display market is a little ways off, the vision from both Apple and Samsung for where flexible displays could be going is simply mind boggling.