Samsung arguably has the foldable phone market cornered but it still has a lot of work to do to polish up both hardware and software. On the one hand, it still has to make those devices more reliable and resilient to wear and tear, especially the fragile flexible screen. On the other hand, it still has to fully take advantage of the form factor that these devices open up. A new leak suggests that Samsung is working on an adaptive user interface that will be dubbed “Split UI” and it might not just be for foldables but also for rollables.
Foldable phones that turn into tablets aren’t just phones or tablets. They introduce a new form factor that can have its own interaction language, one that revolves around split-screen interfaces. While Android does have native support for running two apps side-by-side, it isn’t yet designed to take advantage of that though it is indeed heading in that direction.
In the meantime, however, Samsung might also be preparing its own solution, one that famed tipster @Ice universe has revealed to be called “Split UI”. Rather than being specifically designed for foldables, however, this adaptive UI seems to cater to any and all form factors that Samsung’s devices sport, from normal “candy bar” to tablet to foldable.
Curiously, this is also giving rise to speculation about Samsung’s teased rollable phone plans. Without taking the video clips literally, it does show how a Split UI will adapt when a phone’s or tablet’s screen is extended, just like on a rollable device.
The clips also show how the UI can even be customized by sliding the separator between different panes of the same app. Samsung has admittedly been quite good at making UI experiments like this, even before Android officially adopted them, and it will be interesting to actually see it in action, perhaps in the Galaxy Z Fold 3 coming in August.
This week Samsung Display showed off a pair of devices that make folding a touchscreen seem simple. It’s not easy to nail this situation down – not by a long shot – but Samsung showed the pair like they’ve been making these sorts of devices for decades. In reality, they are on the cutting edge, but folding devices like these are still in their “this might work, so let’s try it” phase. Most people in the world haven’t seen a folding display in real life, much less owned a phone with the tech.
Samsung showed off a 17-inch folding screen meant for tablets and/or other industrial technology devices. They also showed a double-folding display meant for a smartphone. First, take a peek at the commercial-like sort of presentation with the video “Better life through Samsung OLED.”
There you’ll see the “foldable laptop” and the smartphone that folds more than once. You’ll also see a rollable display – that’s basically an expanding phone. None of these devices are technically hard-and-fast products yet, but if Samsung Display has their way, they will be very soon.
Next, have a peek at the keynote speech made during SID 2021 by Samsung Display called “The Metaverse and the Great Future of Display.” This keynote showed off some real-deal hardware. It also let it be known that Samsung Display is preparing to deliver displays that are foldable, rollable, slidable, stretchable, and tiled.
Samsung Display made it look, this week, like someone busted the lock off the floodgates. The future of the display seems prepared to be unleashed, now that Samsung has what appears to be a handle on allowing touchscreens to move every which way without significant damage.
Now the company must convince Samsung Mobile and/or the rest of the smartphone and odd-device-making universe to take them up on their offer to potentially produce the next wild smart device. What sort of odd creation will be released with a stretchable display first? Why would anyone ever need such a thing? Will it run Android? We shall see!
A report has surfaced that LG Electronics has begun quietly taking orders from the wealthy for one of the most expensive TVs it’s ever produced, the 2021 OLED R. This is the OLED TV with a screen that’s flexible enough to be rolled and stored away out of sight when not in use. According to reports, LG is taking orders from customers around the world, including in the US.
The OLED R has been available since last year in South Korea at prices in the $100,000 range. At that price, you can bet only the wealthiest of buyers would even consider purchasing. Other costs are unknown. Specifically, some sort of installation would be required for the roll-up television screen.
As you would expect from the price tag, reports indicate only a few televisions have been sold. There are three viewing options available, including the Full View, Line View, and Zero View options depending on the user’s needs. The TVs support voice commands and can be connected to a smart home network. Supported voice assistants include Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri.
The 2021 OLED R television also supports AirPlay 2 and HomeKit. One of the interesting aspects of the Line View option is that the TV can be partially unrolled to support applications that don’t need the full TV screen. Features supporting that option include clock mode and weather mode. Frame mode can display photos from smartphones, and Mood mode creates a relaxing environment for listening to music.
Zero View mode rolls the screen down completely into the supplied base. In that mode, the TV can still play music and other audio content using an internal multi-channel audio system supporting Dolby Atmos technology.
While the fate of the LG Rollable is still undecided, OPPO’s own take on the rather exotic phone form factor is, at least officially, not headed to the market. Ironically, it is also the one that seems to actually be ready for production. At MWC Shanghai, OPPO naturally didn’t miss the opportunity to boast about its rollable OPPO X1 2021 concept phone, both for its hardware innovations and the experiences its extendable screen enables.
OPPO itself admits that an “extendable” screen like on a rollable phone is more difficult to make than a foldable phone. There are more things to consider in its design, like the ideal and safe curvature for the screen, the motors to extend and retract it, as well as the support structure for the non-rigid flexible display. Not by coincidence, those are precisely the three hardware innovations that OPPO made for the X1 2021 rollable concept phone.
The “Roll Motor” powertrain, for example, is what makes the smooth movement of the screen possible while the 6.8mm diameter of the central axis is promised to leave no creases. There’s also a structure of alternating metal strips that provide structural support so that the flexible screen doesn’t fall in whether it’s rolled in or out.
Despite the difficulties, OPPO does also believe that the rollable design opens up more possibilities for user experiences. Those are more on the software side, like being able to have more than one app visible on the screen or using the expanded portion of the screen for messages while the main screen runs a game.
While the OPPO X 2021 rollable phone concept definitely seems ready for use, the company may still be holding off because of one important factor. Interest in rollable phones doesn’t immediately equate to successful sales and, despite belief in its technology and design, OPPO might not yet see a profitable market for it.
South Korean sources suggest this week that LG’s sent word of a halting of efforts for their future rollable phone. This conceptual effort was meant to be a real deal, at some point – a phone with a display that’d effective unfurl like a scroll. But now, amid the restructuring of the LG smartphone business in general, it would appear that any sort of “rollable” smartphone efforts will need to be done by a different company, one more prepared to drop cash on such a risky endeavor.
Per the folks at Yonhap News Agency, supplier contacts say they’ve been given word by LG to “put the rollable smartphone development project on hold.” That’s according to “industry sources”, as they say. They went on to note that parts makers may “request compensation in the future for their development efforts.”
This is a bummer. It’s not completely unexpected, given LG’s latest news of restructuring and the years and years of being a smartphone company that’s never quite ready to be the biggest dog in the pack. According to Yonhap, LG noted that their development of said rollable phone is “still in progress”, but declined to detail the process any further. This also isn’t the first time we’ve heard that this phone might not happen – at least not in the sense we’d expect, with a market release and everything.
The good news is, the rollable smartphone concept was so very real that it came to the point where it was a workable prototype. We’ve been seeing flexible display panels for years, rollable right on the way – and we’ve got rollable panels ready for televisions… ready for the market, too!
So it’s not as if LG’s axing of this project means we’ll never see another wild concept phone come to life. The technology is out there – we just need a market with enough desire to allow a company (with enough cash) to make the effort. Cross your fingers it’s made into a device by a company that’s ready to stick around and support the software for many years into the future, too!
TCL isn’t exactly a household name when it comes to smartphones, but the BlackBerry and Palm phone maker is looking to change that in 2020. Ahead of the launch of its own phones later this year, TCL is piquing our curiosity with a couple of wild concept phones that make the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip and Motorola razr look like old news.
To be clear, these are concepts in every sense of the word. They have no names, no specs, and no chance of being sold anytime soon. The models we saw were basically movie props with few working parts, but they’re certainly intriguing. And if they’re an indication of what TCL has in store for future phones, it won’t be an unknown name for very long.
While we’re somewhat accustomed to folding screens at this point, TCL doesn’t think simply folding in half is enough. To be fair, the company does have a single-folding phone in development that folds completely flat with “zero gap,” but TCL is staking its reputation on two moonshots: a tri-fold display that opens like an accordion and a rollable display that slides out like sideways windows blinds.
If it can actually be mass-produced at a reasonable price, the rollable display could be a game-changer. The idea is that most of the time, the phone looks like any of today’s smartphones, but behind its 6.7-inch display is another inch-plus of display stored around the backs and rolls out to expand to 7.8 inches. The mechanism is powered by “a very simple pushrod motor that works with gesture controls,” and even seeing it in action without a working motor or screen, it was kind of magical.
It’s very much a now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t kind of thing and it presents a unique new direction for foldables that solved the biggest issue: the hinge crease. Of course, it raises numerous interface and multitasking questions that TCL isn’t prepared to demonstrate just yet, but it contends that extending display is easier “from a UI/UX perspective” than folding the display. “Because you’re not taking the screen and then holding it this way or holding it this way, but you’re just extending,” TCL said, “so it’s keeping a standard aspect ratio, kind of like when you do a screen share from your computer.”
Three for the show
If TCL’s rollable phone is “standard,” however, its tri-fold tablet is anything but. TCL has combined two different hinges to create a display that unfolds like a pamphlet, with three panels becoming one. The demo unit we saw technically worked, but like the rollable phone, it was far from a finished product. TCL’s vision is to once again turn a normal-sized 6.5-inch phone into a 10-inch tablet. To accomplish the dual-fold, TCL uses two different hinge technologies, Dragon Hinge and Butterfly Hinge, to “ensure smooth folding inside and out with a minimal gap.”
When closed, the tri-fold phone is quite thick and the whole package was very heavy and clunky. The screens looked and felt like plastic, and the mechanism was creaky. In all honesty, it felt a lot like Royale’s early Flexpai prototype. But TCL wasn’t showing off a polished phone. It’s all about the potential of what a smartphone display can be. When TCL launches its first phones later this year, they’ll look much more like traditional handsets, but down the line, TCL is hoping to become an innovator in the smartphone space with its outside-the-box displays.
And it might be able to do it. For years, TCL has made some of the best budget TV sets in the business, including a partnership with Roku, as well as the BlackBerry Key2 and tiny Palm phones. But with these displays, it’s looking to combine innovation with aggressive pricing to give Android fans another option in an ever-shrinking field.
Of course, interesting ideas don’t necessarily translate into building a good smartphone, and the prototypes we saw gave little indication of how—or if—they’ll work, so we’ll have to wait and see how TCL’s first devices stack up to their peers. But if TCL’s concepts are any indication, we’re in for a wild ride.
Ben Patterson contributed to this report.
Note: When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate link policy for more details.