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The Folly Of Foldable Phones and why they need to be improved

You are in the subway, listening to music and pretending that there is no one else on the train, and then the gentleman next to you takes out a weird gadget that catches your attention. He unfolds this foldable phone and starts reading the digital newspaper on it. What would you think? Welcome to a world where foldable phones are prevalent. But there is an issue, foldable phones are quite nascent and have a long way to go.

Well, soon this may be the case. Samsung and Huawei are the first of the few select phone-makers who are preparing to put these things in people’s pockets (After they take a big chunk of cash from it…to make space for the phones of course) I include only Samsung and Huawei and not Royole’s FlexPai because there is nothing to ‘flex’ about that phone. Although it is commendable that a relatively unknown company was the first to offer a commercial flexible phone, I think they rushed it just to get that title, resulting in making a half-baked abomination of a phone that looks like a cheap toy. But in all fairness, a rather unknown company (worldwide recognition) may not have enough cash to burn in the R&D department to make a better flexible phone (better being used relatively)

The advent of a flexible phone wasn’t an out of the blue event. People were expecting to see such phones as early as 2015.

Samsung showcased its flexible display way back in 2012. Display here means it just showed pixels, a mere prototype. It took them seven years to make the technology refined enough to offer it commercially. It’s a difficult process folk, not only to make a foldable screen but also a foldable phone.

But wait, how can one fold a phone?

The OLED part of the screen isn’t a problem if you were to sit down and try making a foldable phone, the problem is when you want to operate it, to use it as a normal touch screen. The electrical components that carry electrical signals called the electrodes are made of Indium Tin oxide because it is see-through conducting metal compound, perfect for making a screen, but horrible for making a foldable screen. That’s because this alloy is crystalline, like glass, and glasses don’t bend ( We advise you not to try it. Take our word for it. 😀 ) 

apple foldable phone

Although Samsung did not reveal how they did it, it is almost certain that they are using some special polymer to achieve the result. Ever since after that, there was a boom in the demand for flexible screens. The market for flexible OLEDs had doubled from 2016 to 2017. Which translated to more companies competing in the ‘flexible phone’ sector.

We now know that Google and LG have started working on their gladiators for this arena. Apple too has shown some signs of interest towards it but more on that later.

So it would be safe to assume that this year and for at least the next 2 years, flexible phones would be the trend. More companies are going to pay attention to making a flexible version of their flagship.

So why should you consider buying one?

Alright, so let’s say you want reasons to buy a foldable phone. Let me help you. Here’s the list of probable reasons why you would consider buying a foldable phone:

  • Bigger screen than conventional phones, and better mobility than conventional tablets.
  • A bigger battery.
  • It’s cool to hold the tech-trend of the year.

But hold on a second, the only good thing about this flexible phone is that it can bend.

Samsung’s flexible phone has a 7.3-inch screen when unfolded. The Samsung S10+, the most expensive and powerful normal phone, has a 6.4-inch screen. So the difference between the two is not that much.

But the battery is larger, so it must be better right? Wrong. since there are two screens, one is gigantic, pixel-dense, the toll on battery life is huge. Couple it with apps switching back and forth from one screen to another and you have more processes draining the battery. The normal phone, on the other hand, is still better than this. A normal flagship phone is always going to be better than a flexible phone for at least 2-3 years.

samsung galaxy fold

Now let’s talk about the other, smaller display that serves as the primary display once the phone is folded. One look at it and you can see it looks bad. In the age of bezel-less phones, a foldable phone’s front screen looks like a screen was embedded in a large bezel. ( Nintendo DS, anyone?)

“But hey, it isn’t the primary screen”

Okay, so since that is not the primary display, and it must be used for secondary tasks like mentioned above, why would you bother to take out your phone to just see some notification? You can get a smartwatch for that purpose. A smartwatch does exactly what the front screen of the foldable phone does.

Coming to the bucks, did I tell you the price you have to pay to get your hands on one of these phones? Well the Samsung will cost you $1800+ and Huawei will come at $2600.

huwaei mate x
Image” Huawei

Now I know that these are very early, nascent stages of these phones and as time passes, the prices will drop, along with an improvement in the phones, but we can try and bring the prices down hypothetically.

Let’s say I offered you these phones at around $1200, would you buy it? Maybe $1000?

See the problem? These devices are not worth the price they are asking for.

So why would you need to carry a flexible tablet outside? What is the point of using a foldable big screen out where normal phones work perfectly? Reading is perfectly fine with 5+ inch phones.

Hopefully, you don’t intend to take pictures with that giant screen? ( Have you seen someone taking a picture with an iPad? Yeah, don’t be that person)

Watching Youtube videos? I don’t think you’ll be comfortable holding a huge device outside your comfortable house to watch a video, you can do that with your normal phone too!

Imagine instead of using a gaming phone, someone brought a full-sized PC, with a monitor, mouse, keyboard. Now, no matter how portable the pc is, using some Hi-Tech case, you still have a bulky thing when it comes to actually use it. 

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Some other horrendous examples of gimmicks used by companies to stand out of the competition are as follows:

  • A kickstand embedded in a phone. In case you wanted to watch a movie where holding the phone is too tiresome.
  • Projector- Ah, the good old projectors that companies have provided with their phones.
  • The recent Energizer P18K, or the brick that will last for days, but after carrying it for 5 hours, you’ll want to just keep it away. ( Although they’re on the right track of innovation, just on the wrong train)
Nubia energizer P18k
Size comparison between Energizer and iPhone Xs

There will be hundreds of more to add to this list, which will be beyond the scope of this article, as you and I get very limited time to share things, let’s talk about solutions.

A CRITICISM WITHOUT CORRECTION IS INEFFECTIVE AS NO CRITICISM.

Anyone can point out the mistakes in something. The challenge lies in finding the solutions. So what solutions can we think of to defuse this current situation of the imminent explosion of useless foldable phones? Well, there are many. I have listed them one by one so that it is easier and faster for you to read it.

– First and foremost, get rid of that stupid front display. There is no point in keeping that display which unnecessarily brings the price of the phone up, while increases the chance of getting the screen damaged.

Make it a full-fledged tablet. Or even if there has to be a screen, make it a good, well-sized screen.

-Make the larger screen a little bit bigger. There are normal phones that are almost as big as the large screen of the foldable phones. Make bezels thinner and battery way bigger.

“A tablet that can be folded is a perfect thing to make” 

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Find a better way of folding the device. I don’t necessarily want the thing to fold from between. it can have a three-way folding mechanism, like the sci-fi tablet from Westworld. Or maybe a horizontal opening mechanism, like the old flip-phones ( Which is the way Motorola is taking. And they have better chances of capturing this market)

foldable phones
Foldable Tablet in Westworld. Image: HBO

The problem with folding points (hinges) is that, they leave a crease, like the Samsung phone is suffering from.

How about we ditch the idea of foldable phones and come up with another solution?

Here, I have one. Instead of spending thousands of dollars in making a bendable phone, make it a slider phone?

Imagine (if you don’t want to, then I included a concept too) two phones with a bezel-less screen on adjacent sides. You can pull out one part of the screen from behind the other, where it rests.

foldable phones samsung
Screen 2 slides under screen one. Image: TCT

I know there may be some complications, but hey, we made a phone bend, sliding is not that big of an issue.

I DON’T HATE FOLDABLE PHONES, I WANT BETTER PHONES.

The directions of innovation, at least for this year, seem to be going in the wrong direction. Getting in the areas of foldable phones and such is a way of avoiding the real problems faced by phone users…The battery.

For some reason I can’t comprehend is why aren’t companies working on replacing Li-ion batteries? Given that it is a decent material for making batteries, I don’t like that my phone starts bidding farewell after one day of heavy use, that too for the phones with good battery capacity. Some phones don’t even last a single day of heavy usage.

So if companies start putting their R&D money in the battery section rather than dumping it on foldable phones or heart rate monitor or the awful Bixby, a much better phone could come out that people will not only appreciate but love to buy.

Take yourself as an example. If you see a phone like Samsung s10, or the iPhone Xs (Whichever ecosystem you prefer) and the phones offer batteries that will last 3 days of heavy usage, tell me, would you even consider to think about buying a phone that can… like bend? No. And for me, I wouldn’t even mind shelling a few more bucks for that extra juice. I don’t want 10 GB RAM on my phone if the battery lasts for a single day.

So currently we have companies which can make really good products because they have the resources, but they just seem to ignore what people want.

Samsung innovates, it creates products that will quench most of your tech-related thirst, but they try too much and everywhere. ( I already have apps by google Samsung, I don’t need an extra copy of the same apps )

Apple on the other hand thinks that they are some kind of omnipotent, all-knowing company. Whatever decision they make and whatever product they come up with ( and whatever price they charge ) people will like and buy it ( This has turned into a disastrous strategy very well exhibited by iPhone XR slumped sales)

Do people want a compact cheap powerful phone like the iPhone SE which was overwhelmingly good in terms of sales? No, have a shitty iPhone XR that looks like a Chinese company made after copying iPhone XS and put a price tag of $700+

Final Verdict:

Are flexible phones a step ahead in innovation? – Yes

Do they represent the capabilities of companies technological prowess? – Yes

Does it show that companies can achieve technological feats that seems almost impossible?- Yes

Is a bendable phone necessary? – No, not at all.

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