Categories: InnovationMobility

Xiaomi Shows Off Smartphone With Double Fold

Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi has shown off a tablet whose screen folds in two places to reduce the device’s size and convert it into a smartphone.

The company displayed the prototype in a video posted  by president and co-founder Lin Bin on Chinese social media site Weibo, following a leak earlier this month.

Lin said a device similar to the prototype shown in the video would eventually make its way to consumers, but didn’t indicate when that might happen.  He asked for users to help name the folding device.

China’s Royole brought out the industry’s first folding smartphone in October of last year, the FlexPai, which is currently being sold as a developer model, and which one analyst said feels like a “clunky prototype”.

Image credit: Xiaomi/Weibo

Bendable screen

Samsung has also announced flexible display technology and has said it plans to announce more details about the folding Galaxy X device at a press event on 20 February, ahead of this year’s Mobile World Congress event.

Huawei has said it plans to launch a phone with a folding screen this year, and Lenovo’s Motorola has published a patent for a flip-open smartphone using a folding screen.

The two hinges of the prototype device demonstrated by Xiaomi’s Lin allow it to collapse down to a smaller size than Royole’s FlexPai, although industry observers have noted that folding such a device will by definition double its thickness.

Analysts also noted that adding a second hinge also gives the device a second possible point of failure.

Image credit: Xiaomi/Weibo

But users have shown strong interest in folding devices, including two that were on display at CES earlier this month: Royole’s prototype and a television from LG with a flexible display that rolls up into a base that’s about one-third the height of the screen.

Royole was the only company to have a folding smartphone on display at the event, although Samsung also reportedly showed its flexible display efforts to analysts behind closed doors.

The rear of the prototype when folded shut.  Image credit: Xiaomi/Weibo

Promising concept

The FlexPai still feels like a “Stone Age” initial concept, said analyst Ben Wood of UK-based consultancy CCS Insight, but he noted that users showed a strong interest in the device and predicted flexible displays would become more common.

“It feels like we’re currently in the Stone Age when it comes to products with flexible screens,” Wood said in a research note.  “At CES 2019 we have seen the first very tentative steps toward implementation of a technology that may seem to be a solution looking for a problem now, but is likely to become a pillar of designs of consumer electronic devices in the future.”

Mobile World Congress, which begins on 25 February in Barcelona, is likely to showcase more folding-screen devices, Wood said.

Such gadgets may go some way toward relieving what some called the repetitive sameness of most companies’ smartphone efforts at last year’s MWC.

LG’s flexible-screen television rolls down into its base.  Image credit: Ben Wood/Twitter
Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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