Dear Samsung, I Don’t Want Your Folding Phone

Samsung’s flexible display phone concept is tantalizing, but remind me, again, why we need two screens.

Foldable Screen Phone

Seeing Samsung’s Infinity Flex Display, foldable screen phone, for the first time on Wednesday is like confirmation that aliens exist. I’ve heard the wild rumors, seen blurry photos, and have evidence that in the universe of mobile devices, something like this must exist, but seeing it in the silicon is both awe-inspiring and, just like knowing we really aren’t alone in the universe, a little unsettling.

What I saw on the livestream isn’t the most elegant prototype. The blocky, nearly inch-thick device has what appears to be a standard 4-to-5-inch screen on the outside and, folded up like a hotdog bun on the inside, an almost 8-inch flexible display surrounded by wide, gray bezels. A Samsung exec held it up on stage at the company’s annual developers conference, then folded it up and slipped it into his jacket pocket. It’s a wonder he didn’t then tip over from the weight imbalance.

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That still-under-development device stood in stark contrast to the more elegant Infinity Flex Display phone Samsung showed in a promo video. In it, we saw the future: Edge-to-edge infinity displays, one on the outside and the other folded on the inside.

Unfolded, the wide screen will provide a new Android UI, one co-developed by Samsung and Android that will take full use of the 8-inch display. You can watch a YouTube video on the entire display, or split it up, Windows-style, watching a video on one side, while moving app windows around on the other. The hybrid interface is called One UI and I do applaud Samsung for taking this slow and developing a new interface metaphor to support both the multi-screen system and larger mobile screen.

Tale as Old as Time

More screen in a near mobile phone form factor is not a new idea. Before OLED, the intrinsically flexible display technology, many companies tried to build dual-screen devices that almost felt like one continuous mobile display. There was the abandoned Microsoft Courier product, a Windows-like folio with no screen on the outside, but two equally sized screens within that could work in tandem. It was under development before Apple’s iPad and, by the time Apple showed the world how tablet was done, internal corporate strife had killed the Courier. In 2011, Kyocera (and David Blaine!) unveiled the Echo, another dual-screen clamshell device that was essentially two-standalone screens stuffed into a mobile phone-plus form factor. I never saw that clunky product out in the wild.