Foldable Displays and Smartphones: The Rise Of The Transformers

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Foldable displays are the bedrock of foldable phones and devices. In other words, foldable smartphones are possible only to the extent that technology is able to make foldable displays possible. Mister Mobility initially wrote this article in 2014. He has now updated it to reflect developments between that time and 2021.


The very earliest attempts at making foldable phones flopped. Samsung was an early innovator in this regard, but kept pushing a release back. Some of the earliest experiments applying foldable displays included awkward looking curved displays, like the one seen on the LG G Flex in 2013. It folded…but more like it curved or bent.

LG G Flex foldable display
LG G Flex foldable display was a flop

Back then, I had no idea what the benefit of a curved smartphone was or would be. I spent some time thinking about it, and I wasn’t able to figure it out. The phone simply looked and felt like a banana in the hand. Apart from that…

I did imagine that if manufacturers could make the rest of the components foldable so that a tablet could be rolled up like a newspaper, that would be something. I could think of some possible merits in that concept.


Samsung did eventually announce a foldable device, and even that was riddled with problems. But as with all new technological endeavours, things get better and better. And they did with foldable displays.

Hybrid Devices Are Here

Huawei Mate X foldable phone

But foldable display technology has since progressed and made things happen. Fast forward to 2021, and there are varying shades of hybrid devices with a foldable display. A hybrid device is one that is a mix of two things.

Consider the Samsung Galaxy Fold, for example. When opened up, it is a full fledged tablet. When folded, however, it is the size of a smartphone. The age of Transformer phones beckons.

Most manufacturers who have dabbled with foldable displays have gone the route of Tablet-phone devices in their implementation. For example, we have: Huawei Mate Xs and Xiaomi Foldable Phone: first look (video & renders).

xiaomi foldable display phone
Xiaomi’s hybrid device with a foldable display

However, we have another class of foldable phones that do not morph into a tablet – the new foldable flip phones. These are standard-sized phones when opened up, and closed clams/flips when folded. Foldable phones in this category include Samsung Galaxy Z Flip, and Motorola RAZR 2019 foldable phone.



Motorola RAZR 2019 foldable flip phone opened up
Motorola RAZR 2019 foldable flip phone opened up

The Future of Foldable Displays

One thing is clear: devices with foldable displays are here to stay. The first two generations have done well and things can only get better from here. As foldable display technology improves, we might even see more interesting and complex form factors evolve.

For the foreseeable future though, we will see refinements in the present form factors – stronger hinges, better screen protection, better battery life, and the like. For example, the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 is rumoured to be coming with an ultra thin glass display.

Initially, foldable displays were strictly a plastic affair. Plastic bends; glass not so much. But technology is improving to deliver foldable glass. We should see foldable glass protection soon too, so these $1500-$2000 get some measure of safety should they unilaterally decide on an appointment with the hard floor.


One other thing that has to happen in the next few years is a price drop in the cost of foldable smartphones. Right now, they are not for the faint-hearted, or for the trim purse.

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7 comments

  1. I read that a smartphone having a curved display offers a more immersive video watching experience… More like in 3-D mode

  2. Google being my friend…..

    //The curvature actually causes a series of optical effects that result in improved contrast, color accuracy, readability,
    and overall image quality — especially under ambient light that usually makes smartphone screens almost unreadable, such as daylight or fluorescent office lighting.//

    It is interesting to see how the tech world seems to vacillate.

    First, we had the extreme drive for miniaturization in mobile devices from the days of mainframes. We shrank these things up to a point, paused, and started reversing like a pendulum.

    Now jumbo sized phablets and tablets are the craze.

    We had curved television screens. Then came the advent of flat screens. Now some TV manufacturers are reintroducing curved TV screens, claiming similar benefits as those in the quote above.

    Same thing is now happening to smartphone (and possibly tablet?) screens.

    I suppose actually using a device with some curvaceous curves will convince us of its merits, if any. I doubt there is any.

    A demerit could be, unless these rotund screens are also gorilla, the likelihood of your screen shattering to smithereens in a drop.. would increase dramatically.

    My take is, this may actually be a matter of manufacturers trying to spice our lives with variety, than any other thing .

    But then…

  3. A demerit could be, unless these rotund screens are also gorilla, the likelihood of your screen shattering to smithereens in a drop.. would increase dramatically.

    The concave nature of the curve will most likely be beneficial in this case in my thinking because it will prevent the device from ever falling flat on its face than when it is flat or a convex curve. I think this is actually one of the most important benefit of this curved screens and I mean strictly when the curve is inward rather than outward.


  4. If my O level Physics is serving be right, pressure increases as surface area DECREASES.

    With phones having pot belly, the area I’m contact with the ground REDUCES on impact with the floor.

    That would put more stress on the glass, on impact, increasing the likelihood of breakage.

  5. If my O level Physics is serving be right, pressure increases as surface area DECREASES.

    With phones having pot belly, the area I’m contact with the ground REDUCES on impact with the floor.

    That would put more stress on the glass, on impact, increasing the likelihood of breakage.

    You are very correct there Eye.Bee.Kay but this is glass we are taking about here. Glass is very brittle meaning or in technically, very inelastic. the slightest pressure will set it off for breakage. the threshold pressure for breakage is so low that dropping say a mirror facedown from very small height will cause it to shatter with the distributed pressure having no real benefit but actually exposing larger area for breakage than when dropped on the edge.

  6. hmmmmmm I look at this phone and all i can think of is how do I carry it around ??!!?? it doesn’t look like something that would fit comfortably in a pocket meaning it has to have a special case that hangs where>>?? haba! too much complication abeg !!!


  7. I still have no idea what the benefit of a curved smartphone is
    Maybe for bragging rights?
    Dude A – “Hey, check out my new Samsung Galaxy S5 😀 ”
    Dude B – Pulls out curved smartphone “Yo, but mine has a cool curved surface…and I’m the only one in the office with this type of phone”

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