back to article Samsung’s flexible phone: Expect an expensive, half-bendy clamshell

Samsung has applied for a US patent (PDF) for a foldable mobile device, giving important clues as to how it’s approaching the market with the new technology. The Korean firm's display division already leads the market in several notable areas, and the chaebol has done little to quell speculation that a device with a flexible …

  1. WibbleMe

    Amazon already patent a corner, yes a corner a few years back in the US as they keeped submitting it so I think this patent may not make it

  2. James 51

    I think the clamshell design suits the Gemini well.

    Any chance The Register could talk with Onyx about the torrent of ereaders coming our way? Would like to know the price and ETA for the Boox Nova Plus.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I still think a bifold device will be a market failure

    People want and are used to a 16:9 / 2:1 type form factor, because videos are 16:9 and people spend a LOT of time watching video on their phones. A device that's 2:1 when unfolded folds into a square. Since you would obviously want something that unfolds LARGER than what you have today (otherwise why pay more for it?) then you'll end up with a square in your pocket that's significantly wider - and thicker - than your current phone.

    It will sell at first because of the "cool" / "early adopter" factor, but once people have them they will not like them, and sales will quickly crater.

    And this leaves out longer term reliability issues that will likely dog first generation folding phones. If engineers think having a machine fold / unfold it 10,000 times over a weekend will approximate real world longevity issues, they are in for a surprise.

    1. Fuzz

      Re: I still think a bifold device will be a market failure

      That's not how the mobile phone market works.

      At some point Apple will put the feature on an iPhone, after that all high end phones will have the feature. Eventually the whole market will have it. Doesn't matter if it's better or worse than what came before, it's different and that's enough. The market doesn't get a choice.

      Just look at the notch, everyone knows it's stupid and yet all phones now have one. Same as most people would rather have a headphone socket a larger battery and expandable memory.

      1. vir

        Re: I still think a bifold device will be a market failure

        Maybe they'll be a holdout though; they sacrifice a lot for a thinner form factor. You'll say that the phone could indeed be thinner when unfolded, but you can't fold one of these up and shove it in a pair of tight jeans like it was nothing.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I still think a bifold device will be a market failure

        "Just look at the notch, everyone knows it's stupid and yet all phones now have one."

        It was a brief fad, but the latest lot of expensive phones mostly don't have it. Samsung, Sony, notchless. Latest Oppo - which will spread to all BBK - vestigial notch. Xiaomi Mix range - no notch. Huawei - one vestigial notch, rumoured more to come.

        I think many Chinese manufacturers learnt a lesson there.

        1. Dave 126 Silver badge

          Re: I still think a bifold device will be a market failure

          Hard to tell. I have a notch-less 2:1 phone, when watching video I have it zoomed in slightly - though being OLED 'black bars' aren't an issue. The most profitable tablets, iPads, are squarer than video's 16:9. Movies are commonly streamed at a wider aspect ratio than 16:9. I've been told a lot of people shoot and watch video in portrait orientation on Twitter.

          The issue with an unfolded tablet might prove to be holding it in one hand.

          1. Charles 9 Silver badge

            Re: I still think a bifold device will be a market failure

            "The most profitable tablets, iPads, are squarer than video's 16:9."

            Because they're usually held vertically (in portrait configuration), and the aspect ratio an iPad uses is closer to that of paper, making it a better tool for reading. Since you don't see landscape-designed (horizontal) iPads, it's supposedly what works, whereas Android tablets can vary considerably in their aspects and orientations.

            1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

              Re: I still think a bifold device will be a market failure

              Because they're usually held vertically (in portrait configuration), and the aspect ratio an iPad uses is closer to that of paper

              The majority of time spent on any tablet, except perhaps the I-Pad Pro, is for media consumption, particularly video. The larger screen size makes is much easier on the eye because you still get a reasonably large picture at 70cm. Apple got this wrong, just like they got the size of the I-Pad wrong, initially. However, it's not a deal-breaker so they still sell I-Pads (still great kit), just at not as high a volume as they did initiallly. My guess is that most people who bought them for media consumption have replaced them with disposable, no-name Android tablets. Certainly, that's what I've seen recently among those people I know with them.

        2. Dave 126 Silver badge

          Re: I still think a bifold device will be a market failure

          Sony prices are usually a fair bit cheaper than their list prices, and I haven't seen many of them in real life since the Z3 era. In terms of market share compared to Samsung and Apple, they sadly don't score highly. It'd be more accurate for you to have just said: "The other high volume, high priced phone vendor who actually turns besides Apple hasn't bothered with notches".

          The reason being, Galaxy S devices have too many front-facing sensors, cameras and emitters to make a notch worth while.

      3. pɹɐʍoɔ snoɯʎuouɐ

        Re: I still think a bifold device will be a market failure

        "Just look at the notch, everyone knows it's stupid and yet all phones now have one"

        My note 9 does not have one...... but I agree its stupid, even apple hide it in the promo photos...

    2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: I still think a bifold device will be a market failure

      people spend a LOT of time watching video on their phones

      Some do, others don't at all: it's a big market.

      For some uses the bigger the screen the better, but also the more portable the better. This is why the hinged designs for notebooks has been so successful. This patent is a big vague but I can see some field workers drooling at the thought. But the execution will have to be perfectly tailored to the use case otherwise it'll be just another notch.

    3. DropBear Silver badge

      Re: I still think a bifold device will be a market failure

      Except a "square" is just fine by me - I would hope to use it as a book reader, and the format would be just fine for that. Incidentally, it's why I would have no interest at all in a "clamshell" folder. One would think web browsing would be also significantly enhanced seeing as how the current 2:1 displays either show five lines of text in landscape or "hahaha get an electron microscope" in portrait.

    4. matt07743
      Paris Hilton

      Re: I still think a bifold device will be a market failure

      "People want and are used to a 16:9 / 2:1 type form factor, because videos are 16:9 and people spend a LOT of time watching video on their phones"

      this should be - people spend alot of time on the toilet watching porn, porn is in 16:9 for that perfect viewing while having a dump (or something else)

      1. Roq D. Kasba

        Re: I still think a bifold device will be a market failure

        >>>porn is in 16:9<<<

        that's a 69 with a spare prick.

  4. LeahroyNake Silver badge

    Obvious

    'This design contains a “shape maintaining part” - which may or may not be flexible - attached to the “deformable part”.'

    The instant clamshell was mentioned I thought that bending the screen at a sharp angle would break it. So i thought hmmm hollow space behind to increase the bend radius. Oh look that's what the patent image looks like #obvious. It is also similar to the away that laptop hinges protect the cabling etc I'm sure you can think of more examples.

    1. DropBear Silver badge

      Re: Obvious

      Duh, of course it's obvious. And of course it gets granted anyway. That's patents for you these days. Hopefully you have more money than $industry_giant if you wish to dispute it legally though. Sometimes I think I should just patent "method and apparatus for transporting liquids by counteracting gravity through forming a concave shape" and start collecting license fees from everyone who wants a glass of water...

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: Obvious

        Then they'll just patent the same thing in a cylindrical or semispheric shape and work around you. The best weapon against a patent is another patent if you have the resources to survive the siege of a patent war. That's how Google survived the assault of MPEG-LA with its VP codecs intact.

  5. djstardust

    Typical Samsung

    Note 4 Edge.... fail

    Galaxy camera.... fail

    They never learn. Deep pockets and all that.

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Typical Samsung

      The sales volumes would suggest that they did learn.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Typical Samsung

        The Note 4 failed on a single component - the battery - partly supplied by third parties and Samsung's rush leading to trying to squeeze it into too small a space. The number of Note 4 owners who were loath to return them for a refund -, forcing Samsung to remotely disable the handsets' access to cellular networks - suggests the rest of phone was good.

        1. djstardust

          Re: Typical Samsung

          I think you'll find that was the Note 7 actually .....

        2. Sampler

          Re: Typical Samsung

          The note 4 is an excellent phone, if I could get the electronics of my note 8 stuffed into the form factor of the 4 I'd be handing over my 8 and a wad of cash in a heatbeat.

          Note 7 I think you'll find is the exploding one..

          1. Dave 126 Silver badge

            Re: Typical Samsung

            Oops! Yep, I was confusing the Note 4 with the Note 7, maybe cos the Note 7 with edge display was around the same time as the Galaxy 7.

  6. WibbleMe

    What I really want is a Fallout Pip Boy strapped to my arm

    1. Down not across Silver badge

      What I really want is a Fallout Pip Boy strapped to my arm

      Not the "Global" from EFC then?

  7. Lee D Silver badge

    Things that a foldable phone fixes:

    - Too huge and thin a device in my pocket, compared to a littler, fatter one.

    - No accidental screen presses (if I put my phone in my pocket unlocked, I have often come back to all kinds of icons all over the place and deep in the menus and even nearly butt-dialling people).

    Things that a foldable phone makes worse:

    - Longevity. Any moving part is bad - look at your current phone and name the actual moving parts. For most phones this is quite literally "whatever is inside the accelerometer".

    - Screen scratches - now you can trap something inside your phone and scratch the hell out of your screen.

    - Ever increasing cost. This stuff ain't going to come cheap.

    - Manufacturing faults. I guarantee that within days of release someone will post a photo of one that has half the screen invisible because the bit in the middle failed.

    It's a good idea, but until we have a literal materials revolution (i.e. something unscratchable, flexible, durable and touch-compatible enough without being a NASA-grade material), it's not going to be any good.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Screen resistance to scratches isn't such an issue in a clamshell form factor. Even if some sand gets in there, there isn't any force pressing it agaivsts the screen. This is why so many laptops have soft screens and survive being slung in rucksacks.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        "Even if some sand gets in there, there isn't any force pressing it agaivsts the screen."

        Not even the other half of the clamshell?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Sand getting stuck and scratching the screen

          All they need is a 0.1mm high border around the display to avoid having it physically touch the display on the other side, which will also avoid letting fine grit get caught. Something bigger like a grain of beach sand could get in there I suppose, but that's on you for letting something that obvious get stuck in there...

          I think longevity will be a huge problem. This is the sort of thing that they can simulate with a robot that folds/unfolds the screen thousands of times and when they market it say "we have tested it with 50,000 folds/unfolds, equivalent to you doing this 30x a day for five years" but that won't matter. Robots will fold and unfold it in exactly the same way, while people will add a little twisting force every time. Plus the device will get squeezed into pockets, dropped, sat on, etc. which will further stress the folding parts.

          I'd stay well away from the first gen products, I predict the issues/complaints of early adopters will really ramp up around six months after it goes on sale.

  8. Stuart Halliday

    Completely pointless.

    Only the top tech junkies will buy it and then only to unfold it in front of their sad peers.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Can you name a MK 1 tech product that hasn't followed that pattern?

  9. Down not across Silver badge

    "Clamshell phones have all but died out"

    Clamshell phones have all but died out, which suggests Samsung has a big market job persuading the public that the benefit of the form factor outweighs the inconvenience of unfolding it.

    That depends on the market. I did fairly recently, after getting fed up with "feature" phone pocket dialing despite being allegedly locked, look if there were any clamshell phones (other than some awful Doro or Binatone) available. Seems like the answer is yes ...if you're in Asia. Accordingly the answer is "no" if you're in EU. And yes some were made by Samsung. So perhaps not much persuasion will be required.

    1. DropBear Silver badge

      Re: "Clamshell phones have all but died out"

      Tell anyone in Asia that clamshells are dead

      and they'll be wondering whether you're mad.

  10. heyrick Silver badge

    Can't imagine this will last long

    Folding parts wear. It's basic mechanics. Folding ribbons in a restricted space (Bluetooth headphones) last literally months before failure (about on par with wired headphone jacks then), and even things designed for movement (printer heads, scanner platens, Psion 3a) eventually wear out. And how many conductors are we talking? Four four headphones, maybe a dozen or two for scanners and printers? It's a long way from a bendy screen.

    Just imagine how many times a day a person will fold and unfold their phone. Multiply by days. I'm sure it would give the user bragging rights for cutting edge technologies, but let's be honest here, I think you'd be lucky to have any still working by the end of the two year guarantee period.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Can't imagine this will last long

      "And how many conductors are we talking? Four four headphones, maybe a dozen or two for scanners and printers? It's a long way from a bendy screen."

      Couldn't you say the same thing about laptop designs that need to carry video signals and usually audio because the speakers are on the display half? If there are antennae on the display half, those wires would need to be included, too.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Can't imagine this will last long

        Couldn't you say the same thing about laptop designs that need to carry video signals and usually audio because the speakers are on the display half?

        Take a look at the stout hinges on a typical laptop. Who will buy a phone using those? They can't do what laptops do, they need to very tiny hinge that's also super strong/durable.

        They'd actually be better off they can make the screen the only thing that folds, with nothing behind it. We know displays can do that, the problem is they will be very easy to damage in the unfolded state. Not to mention that they are see thru, so they'll need at least minimal backing to prevent that (or find a way to sell it as a "feature")

      2. heyrick Silver badge

        Re: Can't imagine this will last long

        "Couldn't you say the same thing about laptop designs"

        No, because in the laptops I've poked around inside, it's a fairly thick bundle of regular wires with plastic wrapping holding them together - a bundle only marginally thinner than an average modern phone...

    2. Kernel Silver badge

      Re: Can't imagine this will last long

      From the dim, dark, memories of my past which involved many happy hours fixing faults on manual telephone exchanges, the one thing that I don't recall giving any trouble were the wiring looms connecting the relays behind each individual switchboard position,

      The relays were mounted on hinged gates, which had to be opened every time a cord needed to be replaced ie., far too bloody often for my taste! The wiring loom for these was about 50mm in diameter and was much older than I was, even back then, but wires in the loom never broke, regardless of how often the gate was opened.

      The secret to making this sort of thing work correctly is to run the wires along the length of the hinge and clamp each end to one of the hinged pieces. This way you end up with a firmly held straight loom, with the only motion being a twisting along the length of the hinge, rather than a bending motion which will rapidly work-harden the conductors and cause them to snap.

      All of the admittedly few laptops I have stuck my nose into seem to use a similar arrangement.

    3. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Can't imagine this will last long

      > Folding parts wear. It's basic mechanics

      Not necessarily. It depends upon the material and the minimum radius of the bend. Nor are pivots and hinges doomed to fail before other parts of a product.

      True, caution, careful engineering and testing would be required to make it durable, but it's not impossible as you imply.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's by Samsung...

    ...so it'll be like a turd, stuffed full of maggots, warming in the sun.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It's by Samsung...

      I bet if Apple do it you'll love it.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: It's by Samsung...

        Yes. I love APPLE.

  12. David Roberts
    Holmes

    Clamshell?

    I rarely make or receive phone calls on my Galaxy S5 but when I do I really struggle with the microphone. Other end can rarely hear me. I assume this is because the microphone is behind the pinhole at the bottom, not helped by the soft case, and the tiny speakers are at the back.

    What would be nice would be a phone with a decent sized microphone and speakers. Clamshell so the speakers are by the ear and the microphone folds round to be near the mouth. [No I don't want to carry round a headset just for the couple of times a month I may need to make a call.] Bigger speakers and microphone don't play well with the screen side nor with the edges of ever thinner cases. How about a phone which folds backwards so you can hold the speaker and microphone on the back of the case next to your ear and mouth? Just like a real phone.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Clamshell?

      The problem you describe has been solved, though either imperfectly in your S5 or, as you suspect, the case was to blame. I suspect your phone's case was blocking a second microphone.

      The technique involves several microphones placed apart and some digital signal processing. This allows the phone to distinguish sound coming from your mouth (which is at a distance only a few multiples of the distance between the microphones) and background noise (which is many many multiples - of the inter-mic distance away.

  13. devTrail Bronze badge

    Unworthy patent

    Who granted such a silly patent? Even a child could think such an obvious solution there's absolutely no innovation in it.

    Is it still the USPTO?

    For me this news is just a further confirmation that the patent system is rigged towards big corporations.

    1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: Unworthy patent

      It's a patent application – not an actual patent grant (yet). Sorry for any confusion.

      C.

      1. devTrail Bronze badge

        Re: Unworthy patent

        Thank you for the correction. In this case I'll just keep wondering how come all these big corporation do not feel ashamed for filing such patents.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: Unworthy patent

          "I'll just keep wondering how come all these big corporation do not feel ashamed for filing such patents."

          There IS no shame in Corporate Cutthroat. First In Wins, everyone else deserves their fate. Law of the Jungle, simple as that.

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