Samsung already makes flexible displays, but so far they've only appeared in rigid TVs and curved Galaxy Edge phones, as engineers puzzle over how hard and flat internals, like the battery and circuit boards, could be reimagined to support a foldable design.
A newly-revealed Samsung patent doesn't quite offer a solution to the rigid component problem, but shows that the Korean electronics giant is still keen on figuring a way around it, in order to deliver a bendable phone that could leap ahead of the current edge-to-edge display trend.
Such a device could provide a bump to smartphone sales, or, as Samsung has previously considered, pave the way for a new category of hybrid phone-tablet, or a compact phone that can fold out to become a seven-inch tablet.
The filing includes sketches of a "flexible electronic device", which has two rigid housings coupled via a multi-joint hinge in the middle. The device would close under a magnetic force with the screen facing inwards, like a full-screen flip phone.
Samsung notes one engineering challenge is that the hinge design has "teeth" on the rear side of the phone that dirt and other objects can fall inside. Samsung says it needs a flat surface to improve its aesthetics.
Of course, the display must also be flexible and span the two housings, but the fold mustn't be so sharp that it ruins the flexible display.
Effectively, the patent is about the hinge design itself and the challenges of fitting rigid parts into the flexible device. Samsung says the design could be applied to any electronic device that relies on a hinge for folding, including phone, a head-mounted display, tattoos, a vacuum cleaner, and medical devices.
Though the drawings show a phone that bends in the middle, Samsung says the bend could be placed anywhere on the frame or even on multiple locations.
It also acknowledges that while flexible displays have sparked interest in flexible devices, not all the parts in the device are flexible. "Therefore, the flexible electronic device can bend one side by using a multi-joint hinge," the company says.
Despite prototypes such as Lenovo's CPlus that can wrap around a wrist, if anything, Samsung's patent highlights the considerable design and component challenges that need to be overcome to create a bendable phone that's actually desirable.
Samsung remains highly interested in the concept of foldable, or bendable, phones, says its mobile boss. But a bendable smartphone will be difficult to produce, design, and launch, as is the question of how it will win developers.
Samsung Electronics is targeting a 2018 launch for a foldable phone in the Galaxy Note series, the firm's mobile boss says, but it will rollout only when ready.
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