Samsung gives peek at device that will fold

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Samsung gives peek at device that will fold


With lights on the stage dimmed, Justin Denison, a senior vice president of mobile product marketing, gives a glimpse of Samsung’s first foldable mobile device at a developers conference in San Francisco Wednesday. [REUTERS/YONHAP]

After years of promising one, Samsung Electronics on Wednesday gave a glimpse of a smartphone that unfolds into a tablet that could give a major jolt to the industry in 2019, the year Galaxy phones will be celebrating their 10th anniversary.

At the Samsung Developer Conference in San Francisco, Justin Denison, a senior vice president of mobile product marketing, withdrew a prototype of what has so far been called the Galaxy F from the inside pocket of his suit. The lights on the stage dimmed to deliberately obscure details of the device, and Denison opened it like a book to show a main organic light-emitting diode (OLED) screen - which Samsung has dubbed “Infinity Flex Display” - that measures 7.3 inches diagonally.

When folded, the cover display, an OLED that functions as a notification center, measures 4.58 inches diagonally.

“There is a device in here and it is stunning,” Denison said.

He did not reveal how thick the device is. The device’s screen “had to be thinner than any other,” he said, adding Samsung will be able to start mass production of the Infinity Flex Display in a “matter of months,” which means it can be sold early next year at the earliest.

The unfolded screen of the upcoming phone is bigger than Samsung’s biggest smartphone, the Note9, which is 6.4 inches, and the iPhone XS Max at 6.5 inches. But it’s smaller than tablets made by either company.

The main screen of the Samsung foldable comes with a 4.2:3 aspect ratio and the cover a 21:9 aspect ratio. Both screens boast resolutions of a standard 420 pixels-per-inch density.

The bigger screen can split into three active areas at once, meaning three apps can run at the same time. To facilitate multitasking, Samsung described at the event a new, intuitive interface design called One UI to be used with the Infinity Flex Display.

One UI’s “clean and minimal design keeps the most relevant content on the bottom half of the screen - making it more natural and comfortable for one-handed use,” said Samsung in a release. “The experience was reengineered to reduce clutter and distractions, allowing the user to better focus and quickly navigate.”

Samsung invited developers to start making apps for the new device, and minutes before the company showed its foldable smartphone, Google made official it would support a new category of Android devices and call it “foldables.”

Dave Burke, vice president of engineering at Google, said at the Android Developer Summit that Google is “enhancing Android to take advantage of this new form factor with as little work as necessary.

“We expect to see foldable products from several Android manufacturers,” he added.

“The foldable display lays the foundation for a new kind of mobile experience,” said Koh Dong-jin, president and CEO of the IT and mobile communications division at Samsung. “We are excited to work with developers on this new platform to create new value for our customers.”

Samsung and Huawei have been vying to be the world’s first developer of a foldable smartphone.

But they were unexpectedly beaten by a Chinese display start-up, Royole, last week. The company unveiled a foldable Android smartphone with a 7.8-inch screen. Its FlexPai folding phone was made available for order with a $1,318 starting price.

Royole said it would start filling orders in late December.

Samsung is likely to fully introduce a device for sale at the Consumer Electronics Show in January or at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February.

There is a high chance it will carry a price tag of around 2 million won ($1,790). Huawei CEO Richard Yu confirmed recently that the Chinese giant, now the world’s second-largest smartphone vendor after Samsung, was working on foldable 5G phones.

Samsung also used the developers conference to announce it would begin letting app developers use Bixby, its artificial-intelligence platform for Samsung’s smartphones and home appliances.

The announcement means other companies can start building the voice assistant system into their own machines and devices as well. Bixby could then become an alternative to Google Assistant or Amazon’s Alexa, even though the Samsung platform is widely perceived as weaker than its competitors when it comes to recognizing and processing voice commands.

Samsung is also adding five additional languages to Bixby in the coming months - such as British English, French, German, Italian and Spanish.

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