Last Friday Samsung officially released their Galaxy Fold 5G in South Korea. It's due to arrive in North America and Europe later this month. Huawei delayed their Mate X folding smartphone until later this year due to a number of factors.
Other Chinese smartphone OEM's are working on future folding smartphones such as Xiaomi and Royole Flex Pai.
Earlier this quarter, Patently Mobile discovered a foldable smartphone patent application from China's Oppo in the U.S. Patent Office database.
Oppo notes that smartphone with large screen play an excellent role in improving user experience and visual effect, and possess obvious advantages particularly in business communication, playing games, watching movies. Oppo's foldable smartphone may also include providing mobile TV using the DVB-H specification.
Oppo's foldable smartphone with a larger display panel may satisfy consumer demands for pocket mobile device that can fold out to provide a much larger display than available on most smartphones.
The foldable smartphone will be folded and unfolded by rotating the rotation mechanism between the first housing and the second housing. Therefore, a hinge assembly configured to connect the first housing and the second housing is needed.
Roughly 97% of the patent filing is about every facet of the hinge imaginable which we know is a vital part of a folding smartphone because Samsung's Galaxy Fold had problems right out of the gate earlier this year.
Oppo's patent FIG. 1 below illustrates a schematic view of a mobile terminal, which is in an unfolded configuration; FIG. 2 illustrates an exploded view of the foldable mobile terminal in FIG. 1; and FIG. 3 illustrates a schematic view of the foldable mobile terminal in FIG. 1, which is in a folded configuration.
Oppo's patent FIG. 6 below illustrates a schematic view of a hinge assembly of the rotation mechanism; FIG. 12 illustrates an exploded view of the tooth plate assembly.
The patent application that was published earlier in Q3 2019 by the U.S. Patent Office was originally filed in China in Q1 2017. Oppo also filed their patent in Europe in July. Being that this is a patent application, it's unknown when Oppo's first foldable smartphone will come to market.
For now the folding smartphone is a highly experimental device category. It's not yet known whether future folding tablets and mini-notebooks will win out over expensive folding smartphones.
On Saturday Patently Apple posted a report titled "Laser Modified Glass may be the Breakthrough needed to accelerate Durable Foldable Displays for Devices like Notebooks." Other industry players are working on folding displays that use graphene that adds flexibility to various materials such as glass and plastic.
There's still a lot of work yet to be done to get foldable devices right, with specialized rotatable hinges being a core component. Beyond Oppo's patent focus on a foldable hinge, Microsoft has shown to be deadly focused on filing multiple hinge patents for future foldable devices. In 2019 we've posted three reports on Microsoft's hinges here: 01, 02 & 03. We passed on covering many others only because of the repetitiveness of this kind of filing.
More than likely all major smartphone OEM's in China will offer folding phones in the next 18-24 months. That should give Apple sufficient time to continue their work in this new category.
Apple has many patents on folding devices that may translate into folding iPads and notebooks as well in the future if the category proves to be a hit with consumers.
While this category holds potential, this is one that Apple should take their time developing. To make foldables a killer category will require a combination of innovative hardware and Apple's UI mastery. Hopefully the wait will be worth it in the end.