Samsung may sell folding phones in ’17

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Samsung may sell folding phones in ’17

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This image shows one of the latest patented Samsung folding smartphones. [U.S. PATENT AND TRADEMARK OFFICE]

The smartphone scene is set for a major disruption next year as Samsung Electronics prepares to unveil its first folding smartphones as early as February.

The Galaxy producer will showcase two new smartphones at the annual Mobile World Congress. One can fold like a compact mirror and the other, sized at five inches, can grow to as much as eight inches when unrolled, according to Bloomberg. The former will be pretty similar to folding phones in the early 2000s, except for the fact that the other half of the old phone was filled with keypad and function buttons.

Samsung declined to confirm the closed-door development known as “Project Valley,” dismissing the report as a mere rumor. But a series of patents Samsung filed in the United States and leaks from tech media indicate there is a high chance consumers will be able to get hold of a smartphone that deviates the most from iPhone’s form in the year that the Apple phone will celebrate its 10th anniversary.

“The launch of foldable smartphones in the first half of next year is expected to help Samsung secure additional product in its premium line,” said Kim Dong-won, an analyst at Hyundai Securities, “stepping up Samsung’s competitive edge in the global smartphone market further.”

Since Apple introduced the iPhone, the first-generation smartphone model, flat bar-type display has served as a prototype for any smartphone as producers have yet to overcome technological hurdles. More than 90 percent of flexible displays on the market consist of organic light-emitting diode that sits beneath a flexible cover such as plastic, or enforced polyimide film, but batteries and other circuitry have remained unyieldingly straight.

Folding screens may improve the device’s portability and could make them less prone to break when dropped, largely because they might use plastic, industry insiders say. But at the same time, folding the device in half as shown in an image at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office homepage, raises concern the phone may actually expand in your pocket.

Folding phones are seen to lead the flexible display market. IHS Technologies, a market researcher, predicted in February that the global flexible market will more than double this year from last year to $5.37 billion. Of the different types of flexible displays - from bendable to foldable, rollable and stretchable - folding ones are expected to make up 46 percent this year.

On the upbeat prospect of flexible screens, Chinese producer Lenovo last week unveiled a bendy smartphone that can transform into a wearable device that the user wraps around the wrist and a bendable tablet that may fold in half. The products are still in the development stage and Lenovo did not disclose a time frame for their launch.

Ever since Samsung showcased the prototype of bendable, foldable and rollable displays with several concept devices at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, rumors of a flexible-screen Samsung smartphone have been floating around.

Bending smartphones are different from folding phones in that the former flex to an extent but don’t fold in half. Samsung unleashed a horizontally bowed smartphone called Galaxy Round in October 2013 - the first curved smartphone in history - and LG Electronics followed suit a month later with G Flex, which is slightly curved vertically. Neither model was a hit.

Samsung went on to unveil smartphones with a screen that curves either on each side or both sides, starting with the Galaxy Note Edge phablet in 2014. Although the latest Galaxy S7 Edge model turned out to be hugely popular, many still question the functionality of the so-called edge. The curved parts merely glow when the phone is face-down to notify users of a call, has a quick dial tab and streams weather information and news.

Separately, Samsung is expected to introduce its next-generation Note phablet in early August at an unpacked event in New York, a month earlier than Apple is scheduled to inaugurate iPhone 7. The Galaxy Note will skip the serial number 6 and carry 7 to avoid long-time confusion and to facilitate marketing activities.

Samsung has kept the tradition of unleashing its flagship smartphones twice a year - Galaxy S in the first half and Note in the second. The first Galaxy S hit shelves in June 2010 and the first Galaxy Note was released in October 2011, almost a year and a half later. Last year, Samsung introduced Galaxy S6 in March and Note 5 followed in August, inevitably giving a feel that Note is late by one version.


BY SEO JI-EUN [seo.jieun@joongang.co.kr]

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