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While Rumors Persist that Samsung is finalizing a Foldable Smartphone, Apple has its own plan on the drawing board

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A new report published this morning states that with interest in foldable and multiple pane smartphones gaining steam, leading display manufacturers such as Samsung and LG are putting a spur to the development of foldable displays. It is expected that a smartphone with this panel will be released as early as next year.


It is Samsung that started competition for the development of foldable displays. Earlier in September, Ko Dong-jin, president of Samsung's IM Division said, "We aim to launch a foldable smartphone next year."


Industry analysts say that smartphone makers have actively participated in product development since president Ko's remark. It is highly likely that Samsung will name the foldable smartphone to be launched next year 'Galaxy X.'


In the display industry, it is said that Samsung Display has developed a foldable panel with a curvature of 1.0R. The curvature of 1.0R means that the panel can be completely folded inward like paper.


However, there are many divided opinions about display materials. So far, a dominant opinion is that a plastic material will be used. The industry believes that Samsung has chosen a method to process a panel's junctions separately to make the panel slim, thereby adding flexibility to a display itself.


"Samsung has applied for a number of technology patents for foldable smartphones in order to preempt the foldable display market,' said an official of the industry. 'But as the product is not officially released, it will be vital to the success of the product how much related technology is applied.'


Another reason why Samsung is concentrating on product development is that LG, one of the two leading display companies with Samsung Display, is spurring the development of a foldable display with the aim of preempting the foldable display market.


LG Display's foldable display became a big issue when it was recently known that Apple filed a patent for a foldable smartphone. Apple released a new foldable iPhone image in the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) on November 23 (local time) and LG Display is likely to supply foldable displays to Apple."


It should also be noted that BOE, China's largest OLED supplier shared their business plans with Apple recently for a dedicated OLED production line. The report noted that the plant could produce 70% flexible OLEDs and 30% of foldable panels.


Another Patently Apple report last December covered one of the key companies behind foldable display technology, Kolon Industries. Kolon is currently the only company in the world that can mass produce colorless polyimide, a key technology for foldable devices as the flexible film can replace rigid glass sheets.


The report also pointed out that Kolon was "reportedly supplying the materials to global tech firms including Samsung Electronics, LG Electronics and BOE.


So it's clear that Apple has the patents along with several partners that could assist them in delivering a future foldable smartphone to compete with Samsung should this category prove to be a viable one over the next three or four years. Apple may sit back and watch to see if Samsung or a Chinese vendor could make this a category worth pursuing. I doubt that new-Apple under CEO Tim Cook has the courage to step out and be first in this category. They'll play it safe before striking.


With that being said, the new report today further noted that "Apple is said to have assembled a Task Force (TF) team to develop a foldable OLED screen with LG Display in order to launch a foldable product in 2020.'


According to the USPTO, the patent filed by Apple is a foldable smartphone with two screens connected to a hinge. The foldable smartphone can spread like a book and can be folded based on the central axis. Liquid crystal displays (LCDs), OLEDs and LEDs could be applied to the product, Apple said."


Technically, Apple's latest patent notes under patent point #20 that the "Display may have one or more portions that bend. The bent portions may be flexed back and forth during use of device 10 (e.g., when the device is being opened and closed like a book) or may be placed in a permanently bent configuration (e.g., when an inactive portion of the display is bent to accommodate mounting in a compact housing)."


Today's foreign report added that "Particularly noteworthy is the fact that the next foldable iPhone will be loaded with a micro LED for the first time. Micro LEDs that attach LEDs to substrates in the micro unit can be bent or stretched depending on substrates.


LG Display is planning to develop a foldable panel with a target curvature of 2.5R by the end of this year. The company aims to develop a foldable panel with a curvature of 2.5R by next year and one with a curvature of the 1.0R level by 2019.


The display industry is forecasting that a foldable smartphone will be commercialized in a year or two.


According to market researcher Strategy Analytics (SA), foldable displays will first appear on small and medium-sized displays mostly for mobile devices. SA also expects foldable phones will account for more than one percent of global smartphone sales in 2021."


The Korean press continues to keep the Samsung foldable smartphone fresh in the press on almost a quarterly basis and pushes the branding Galaxy X almost to mirror the iPhone X. They do this in part because it's already known that Samsung's new Galaxy S9 due in Q1 2018 will be a bit of a bore fest.


With the iPhone X sales raging on, the local tech press is trying to keep Samsung grand vision of a foldable smartphone exciting.


To Samsung's credit they did take a gamble by introducing the first phablet and it created a niche that will soon surpass smaller displays according to IDC's latest report on this trend; a trend already proven with the initial sales of the iPhone 8.


With Samsung's sales in China crashing, and likely never to rebound, and Xiaomi seriously challenging them in India, Samsung needs to once again take a bold gamble and change the smartphone form factor once again.


The problem this time around for Samsung is that Apple won't be slow in pulling the trigger in delivering a foldable smartphone as they were getting their first phablet to market. So Samsung has to deliver a home run foldable smartphone right out the gate and then run like hell before Apple unleashes a competing model. Interesting times are ahead on this front to be sure.


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