Flexible displays are everywhere at MWC this year. But almost every company is using them in the same way -- to build phones that seamlessly switch between a clamshell and small tablet. Nubia, meanwhile, is doing something completely different with the technology. It's building a wearable'smartphone' with a narrow screen that wraps around your wrist. Nobody was allowed to touch it, though, and we weren't really sure what it was capable of.
Remembering the events of a decade ago, when the first iPhone came out, you realize that the progress in the field of smartphones is simply huge. Then, in 2007, almost no one imagined that the "Apple" smartphone will affect the world of mobile phones and change it forever. The border between smartphones of the past and the present was held by Apple. Push buttons with small screens are almost a thing of the past, and they are replaced by gadgets with large touch screens. Now the mobile phone is not only calls, SMS, simple toys and cameras for a couple of megapixels, it's a real computer in your pocket.
Google, which has taken a hands-off approach to Android hardware until recently, may be getting more involved in smartphone production. It's reportedly investing up to $875 million in LG Display to develop a stable supply of flexible OLED screens for its Pixel phones, according to reports from Korea's Yonhap News and Electronic Times (ET). That would help ease supply problems for the next-gen device, as the current model has been nearly impossible to find. The search giant would invest a trillion won ($875 million) and possibly more to secure a production line dedicated to its own smartphones. It may also reserve some flexible OLED screens for other devices like a rumored pair of "Pixel" smartwatches.
The basic form of the smartphone hasn't changed in years, and that's likely one reason growth in that market has slowed to single digits in 2016. And yet Samsung, the world's largest smartphone maker, could be about to shake things up with flexible screens that would allow large screens to be folded and more easily placed in a pocket. If Samsung can deliver, it could help the company return to growth in an ultracompetitive market where margins are razor-thin -- while also giving it a huge advantage over its main rival, Apple. According to sources speaking to Bloomberg who are familiar with Samsung's plans, the company is preparing two smartphones for launch in early 2017 -- possibly at the Mobile World Congress trade show in February -- that will feature folding displays. One will be a device that will fold in half like a cosmetic compact, while the other will feature a regular 5-inch screen in smartphone mode that could "unfurl" to an 8-inch screen in tablet mode.
Samsung isn't the only tech giant plotting flexible devices that bend into new form factors. Lenovo will enter the flexible device fray too under a to-be-determined timeline. Lenovo CTO Peter Hortensius at Lenovo Tech World in San Francisco teased flexible screens for tablets and smartphones and devices as well as keyboards on tap and new pen to paper-type interfaces. Lenovo even plugged a smart shoe. But given the Samsung reports earlier this week on how flexible devices were on tap, the Lenovo preview was interesting. Hortensius noted that the technology isn't close to being a product yet, but did tip Lenovo's hand to form factors and use cases.