Somewhere in South Korea, Samsung employees are hard at work creating the smartphones of tomorrow, weird and wonderful devices designed to bend, flex, and roll without taking any damage.
One newly discovered patent application gives us a glimpse of such a device that could be coming in the not so far future. The document reveals a bending smartphone that users could fold both sides, like a wallet or bend into a V shape and use as a desk clock or calendar.
As reported by Patently Mobile, Samsung applied for the patent in February 2014, but there’s no guarantee that the diagrams inside it refer to a real product that will eventually be brought to market. However, Samsung made no secret of its ambitions regarding flexible displays, and, now that market conditions have put a damper on its phone sales, it has a strong incentive to experiment with new and potentially disruptive form factors like folding devices.
The patent application contains a lot of technical tedium about how Samsung’s engineers plan to make the device bend and retain shape. The diagrams, however, are more interesting, as they contain clues about some use cases that Samsung dreamed up for the technology. Folding the device for carrying around is one such case, but there’s also the ability to bend it so it can be used as a sort of tiny laptop, or a desktop flip calendar, or an alarm clock that sits on a nightstand.
Again, this patent application is not, by itself, conclusive proof that Samsung is going to ever put out such a wild folding device. But it’s a good indicator that, behind the scenes, the company is working towards this goal.
The real technical breakthrough that could make folding phones a reality is creating a flexible display that can be bent repeatedly without affecting image quality. Samsung already demoed flexible, plastic-based displays on several occasions, but the challenge remains to make the flexible display resistant to wear and tear.
Another difficult task is to find a way to protect the flexible screen from the elements – Gorilla Glass is obviously not suitable, but Corning Glass and other companies are developing thin, flexible glass (see Corning’s Willow Glass) that could be up to the job.