In early 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?" This was a follow-up to our original report that pointed to a rumor about a possible surprise of a Samsung folding smartphone launching at this year's Mobile World Congress event in late February. Today the latest rumor out of the Korean tech sector suggests that Samsung will be pushing forward with a fold-out smartphone later this year. It may have been Lenovo's prototype being made public of late that pushed Samsung to want to beat Lenovo to market.
Today's Korean report notes that "Samsung is expected to roll out more than 100,000 units of fold-out devices in the third quarter. The smartphone, whose panels face outward upon folding, may be used as a 7-inch tablet when unfolded." The Korean report also noted that Samsung's initial plans had been for a fold-in design.
One of Samsung's fold-in designs surfaced recently at the U.S. Patent Office and was covered in our January report titled "Samsung Starts 2017 with new Mid-Tier Smartphones and IP Pointing to Next-Gen Fold-Out Smartphones & Beyond." In that same report we posted a Samsung design patent figure of a fold-out smartphone design that could be what they'll release later this year. Other folding designs could be found in our Patently Mobile archives here.
The reason that Patently Apple's December report used the phrase "Chicken-Out" is because Samsung seems to never have the nerve to pull the trigger on this concept that they've been working on for over a decade now. Even today's report shifts at one point to state that "Despite technical completion, Samsung Electronics has not made a final decision about whether they will unveil the device this year because of marketability and profitability issues. The final decision will be made after the personnel reshuffle of the company's information technology and mobile communications unit is carried out."
Samsung Electronics' executive-level reshuffle, which is normally done in December, has been delayed to February or March as the company is currently embroiled in the political scandal involving President Park Geun-hye and her confidante Choi Soon-sil.
In addition to Lenovo being a possible competitor in the fold-out smartphone market, Samsung's rival LG Electronics is also expected to produce more than 100,000 foldable devices in the fourth quarter. LG started the development of fold-out technology two to three years ago, and currently has more advanced technology than Samsung, the source said. In fact a rumor surfaced in December stating that Apple, Google and Microsoft were working with LG regarding future foldable smartphones.
Market research firm Strategy Analytics predicted in the latest report Samsung Electronics may unveil the world's first foldable phones this year. It also predicted the foldable display market would reach 163 million units by 2022 from 2.7 million units this year.
Even though a few Korean tech sites and Strategy Analytics are pushing this narrative that foldable smartphones will roll out in 2017, I tend to side with our report in December that covered the leading company holding key technology for folding displays, Kolon Industries.
Kolon take the position that mass production of smartphones with foldable displays won't begin until 2018 when the technology will be ready. However, the key phrasing used by the rumor stories is that LG or Samsung will ship limited quantities of 100,000 units later this year. So both stories have a point. The initial trial runs of 100,000 may be designed to both test out the technology's viability in real-world conditions and to help the companies get a better handle and understanding of the demand for such a next-gen device.