Next-Gen Foldable and Scrollable Smartphones will ultimately blur the line between Phones and Tablets
Our Patently Mobile IP blog has covered dozens of Samsung patents relating to next generation smartphones that will eventually go far behind mere "flexible displays" to designs that fold, expand and scroll. Patently Apple has also reported on Apple's patents that cover possible iPhone design shifts should the market accept and demand such designs supporting future services like always-on mobile TV that will require a larger display. A new Korean report suggests that the true market goal of foldable smartphones longer term is to lure consumers away from tablets that have hit a wall in terms of sales growth.
The Korea Herald reported yesterday that "Foldable smartphones whose mass-market debut is imminent in the coming years could be a bad omen for tablet PC makers, according to Yi Choong-hoon, head of market research firm UBI Research, on April 26.
Yi boldly stated at a recent display seminar in Seoul that "Foldable smartphones will gobble up the market share of conventional smartphones and it is highly likely that the new type of phones will signal the end of tablets. That's why Samsung Electronics and other smartphone makers who also make tablets are still gauging the launch timing of their own foldable phones."
Samsung has reportedly tested several prototypes over the past few years. More recently, Yi said, the Korean tech giant is working on an inward-folding phone that has a 7-inch display screen when unfolded. He added the screen size could be extended to up to 10 inches in the coming years, posing a direct threat to tablets on the market.
Samsung's much-awaited foldable phone launch has been delayed not just because of marketability issues but also because the firm has not yet completely solved technical hurdles, mostly those linked to the durability of components.
Yi Interestingly added that "The Galaxy S celebrates its 10th anniversary next year. Rather than stealing the marketing spotlight from the flagship phone, Samsung is likely to debut a foldable variant of the next-generation Note phone later in the year."
Patently Apple posted a report in December 2016 wherein we noted that Kolon Industries, a chemical arm of Kolon Group, is currently one of a few companies in the world that can mass produce colorless polyimide, a key technology for foldable devices as the flexible film can replace rigid glass sheets." A Canadian company by the name of Ignis Innovation is another company working on this with LG. Display.
Apple isn't only designing different foldable and scrollable iPhones and/or iPads but also working on a system and mechanisms to ensure that the continual folding and unfolding actions on these future devices won't damage the display over time. An image from that patent is presented above.
With iPad sales struggling for growth even with the iPad Pro, a new form factor like a scrollable iPad as noted in Apple's patent figure below may be able to spark a new wave of consumer excitement and growth. Unlike an iPad today, a scrollable or foldable device could fit in your pocket and yet easily have the display expand to 9.7" when wanting to watch mobile TV or play a game.
Coming 5G networks will promote mobile TV as a killer app. AT&T revealed last week that they have a plan for a new mini TV bundle to promote mobile TV by the summer if the government will allow them to proceed with their Time Warner merger.
At the end of the day, Yi Choong-hoon, head of market research firm UBI Research believes that next-gen foldable smartphones will replace tablets whereas I think that it will actually grow the tablet market. Though it really all depends in how you view this segment unfolding.
Current smartphone Plus models are outselling regular models as consumers have fallen in love with larger displays / phablets. At some point, smartphone displays will hit a size wall and this is where these next-gen foldable and scrollable smartphones will come into play. At some point in time a Plus size scrollable iPhone could provide displays equal to a 9.7" iPad and completely blur the line between these device categories.
The iPad Pro provides students and executives with a notebook-like device for productivity using a physical keyboard soft cover. A foldable and scrollable design would be for general consumers looking for a larger display for watching mobile TV and perhaps playing games.
Of course Samsung would like to think that their upcoming foldable smartphones will be a harpoon in Apple's iPad market stranglehold, but that's just a fantasy that will likely never materialize.
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