Unfolding New Mobile Device Tech at the 2018 Samsung Developer Conference

At this year’s Samsung Developer Conference (SDC), the themes of growing and expanding Bixby’s AI capabilities and highlighting the growth of the SmartThings brand were two of the ongoing tentpole focuses for the conference and the Korean technology giant. However, the elephant in the room was the oft-rumored foldable phone Samsung was said to be developing and might be showing at SDC 2018.

On the main stage, toward the end of the keynotes, Samsung announced the development of a new user interface, OneUI for the latest Samsung Galaxy smartphones, the company started showing previous Galaxy screens, with each successive iteration of the flagship phone having their evolution highlighted. Then Justin Denison, SVP of Mobile Product Marketing spotlighted the next step to come: and that was the foldable phone display technology announcement, namely Samsung’s Infinity Flex Display.

The Infinity Flex Display technology is a multi-layered polymer, which includes the cover window, shock-absorbent film, a thin polarizer, a flexible layer, and the backplane. On stage, Dennison suggested the film can handle the hundreds of thousands of possible times a flexible display device might be flexed-unflexed.

Google, in the keynote following the foldable display tech reveal — and in the subsequent packed-full panel with Samsung and ap developer Flipboard, “Is Your App Ready for Foldable Phones?” — confirmed they will offer developer support for the new Samsung foldable phones.

The panel talk delved a bit further into the design of the technology, albeit with many unanswered questions. On the inside a 7.3-inch display when fully unfolded. When the screen is closed, a 4.5-inch screen serves as the smartphone screen. Up to three apps can function simultaneously, or a single app can use the “multi active window” space in different ways. In a mobile game, for example, one screen area might be used for messaging while the other two screen areas are a game play screen and another might be a leaderboard or map.

On the subject of mobile game developers (and also app advertisers), this new form factor represents the unexplored real estate in using a foldable screen. The closest comparison is how some game developers have considered ways of using secondary screens with the mobile-only Nintendo DS and the mobile-optionally Nintendo Wii U. How game developers will use multiple screens or even the folding or bendable form factor itself will be a fascinating process, as developers have the option to look past familiar screen space for new game concepts, user interfaces and so forth.

After the Samsung Developer Conference

Following Samsung’s event, several companies have announced their own versions of foldable phones, so this is now a race to own as much of the market share of a new form of smartphone before anyone else does. For now, Samsung has had the biggest, most high-impact reveal, so many eyes will be on what Android’s biggest smartphone player will go to market with.

As of now, as further details and rumors have found their way out into the wild about Samsung’s foldable phone, a few cohesive ideas about this phone beyond the prototype seen earlier this month have started to take shape. The phone has frequently been referred to as the Galaxy F or Galaxy Flex, according to several media sites. The Samsung flexible phone is rumored to be available globally in early 2019, with a hefty 512GB internal storage, in black and silver.

One of the most frequently cited details is the potential price tag of $1700 for the first wave of these devices from Samsung. It’s certainly expensive in terms of smartphone cost curves, but not unusual for the first iteration of any device before production ramps up and competition compels an argument for cost-cutting.

This foldable phone represents an evolution on a decade-old smartphone design formula. How flexible consumers and game developers are in adopting, and adapting to, this new technology will be an evolutionary process of its own.

Updated: July 13, 2019 — 9:30 am