Foldable Phones
Courtesy of Samsung

Foldable phones have been advertised for quite some time and there are signs to suggest that 2020 may be the year that these phones will go mainstream. These devices can be used as everyday smartphones and you can unfold them into tablet-like shapes that can be used as such. Many top mobile companies around the world have concentrated on research and development to make such a phone a possibility. Major players such as Samsung, Motorola and Huawei are putting great efforts to bring folding phones to the masses. Recently this month at CES 2020 (Consumer Electronics Show), another mobile developer looking to make headlines is TCL, which has been working on their foldable phone that is possible to be released later this year. Foldable phones were the main trend at CES when it comes to mobile technology and 2020 looks like it will be the year foldable phones become affordable and practical for everyday usage.

Designing the Hinge Mechanism

An important question that revolves around such a mobile device is the technology used to design the hinge mechanism, which can be viewed as the most important component of a foldable phone as well as the most difficult to design and engineer. An example could be seen with Motorola’s Razr phone. The company spent 4 years developing the hinge mechanism that made the folding phone possible. Also, getting rid of the gap between the two ends of the screen was another challenge. What they ended up doing is placing steel that spans from one end to other and when the phone is bent, the steel plates in the middle move the screen out of the way so that the phone can be closed forming a teardrop shape in the middle. In reverse, the steel plates are responsible for pushing the screen in the middle back up so that the entire width of the screen is perfectly flat when the phone is unfolded. It is an elegant solution to the problem, however, the small gap in the middle results in a thicker phone.

As mentioned, this is the first part of a foldable phone. A test was done by CNET on the number of times the phone can be folded and unfolded before the hinge fails. Samsung claims its Galaxy Fold lasts 200,000 folds before it fails. This is equivalent to about 5 years of use, which is very impressive. The test by CNET, however, resulted in the hinge failing after 120,000 folds, almost half of the number mentioned. Samsung has already announced its next foldable phone coming in 2020 and is looking to greatly improve upon its initial design, making the hinge barely noticeable and make the phone more simple for everyday usage. 

The Convenience of a Large Screen

A larger screen means more space, more space means more details can be added and viewed on the screen at the same time. Gaming on mobile will surely benefit from the larger screen that a foldable phone can provide as well as adding to the overall user experience. Most mobile gaming companies have become accustomed to either creating or adapting a gaming user interface to a small screen. A larger screen will provide more flexibility to creators, allowing more creativity and freedom without being restricted to a small screen. Nevertheless, there are technical challenges that need to be overcome, such as the different aspect ratio that each phone will have when unfolded and balancing the game’s aspect ratio and user interface to fit each of the different screens may prove a bit challenging.

Games that require a lot of space will greatly benefit from the larger screen. Tables games such as poker, for example. While playing them on a regular smartphone can be done effectively, it does not compare when playing on a slightly larger screen such as a tablet. Therefore, the larger screen of a foldable phone can positively impact the overall gaming experience. Casino game developers have worked hard to help players have a great experience while playing on mobile and for the most part, they have done a decent job in adapting the user interface to fit a small screen and provide all the necessary information to the player. Many of the online slots that can be played on the internet use 5 reels which can comfortably fit the display of a smartphone if used in landscape mode but it can make the interface feel a bit cramped and having a large display at hand can resolve this issue. Mobile RTS games also require a lot of information on the screen that informs the player about the score, available resources, objectives, minimap, etc, a similar issue to the 5 reel slots that can be resolved by having a larger screen than a foldable phone can provide.

The Issues of Foldable Phones

 

  • Brick phones

 

Naturally, foldable phones are bulkier than regular smartphones. This is an issue that does not seem to have a fix because when the phone is folded, the screen is bent on top of itself, resulting in the phone appearing bulkier to accommodate both halves of the display.

 

  • Hinge lifespan

 

The hinge design is the most important part of a foldable phone, however, it is also the weakest point. The moving parts of any technology will always be among the first to fail. Mobile companies promise a durable screen that is also very flexible and able to bend numerous times, but it is the durability of the hinge underneath the screen that most people worry about.

 

  • Screen crease

Anything that bends, such as plastic will most likely leave a crease, especially if its bent a large number of times. This was seen with Samsung’s Galaxy Fold, however, there are rumors that the next Galaxy Fold will have a glass screen. Because the screen was made of plastic, it was also prone to scratches and could be easily damaged.

 

While many people can deal with the brick aspect, the issues regarding the hinge and screen have to be addressed. Overall, having a larger display at hand can be a great thing for many people, especially when using it for entertainment purposes. But at the same time, the phone needs to be built for longevity. The idea of foldable phones goes way back to around 2013, however, it is only now that we start to see their potential and more companies are starting to adopt this new trend.

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