Samsung’s Showcases Its First Foldable Smartphone, What We Learned

Published November 12, 2018

After years of development dating back to 2012 when Samsung trademarked YOUM for its unbreakable, flexible display, Samsung finally announced its first foldable display which it trademarked on October 29 as the Infinity Flex Display at its Developer Conference on November 7th in San Francisco, CA. It did not formally announce the name, timing or price of its foldable smartphone however, which many people believe will be called the Galaxy F for foldable.

Justin Denison, Samsung senior vice president of mobile marketing, had the good fortune of introducing this new technology. He said:

“We've been living in a world where the size of your screen can only be as large as the device itself. Taking our innovation to the next level. Our vision for the future of smartphones. The Infinity Flex Display. Inifinity Flex Display is the foundation for the smartphone of tomorrow. To build it, we had to invent new materials, throw out old assumptions and reimagine the display for the ground up.”

The foldable display was 7.3” with 2152 x 1536 resolution and 420 dpi as shown below. This works out to an aspect ratio of 4.2:3. It was an in-folding type. There was a second display on the front which was 4.58” with a 1960 x 840 resolution and 420 dpi. This works out to an aspect ratio of 21:9. Based on interviews in Korea, we believe the foldable display had a 1mm folding radius and the smartphone had a thickness of 7-8mm when unfolded and 20mm when folded. Note, we believe the version Denison was holding had a thicker case on it. In addition, there were many rumors that this was not the final version of the smartphone. The product expected to be introduced in Q1’19 is expected to be “thinner with a cooler design”.

​The product Denison showed had the same design as what I saw at CES in January in the Samsung Display suite with a front display and an infolding larger display. It did look thicker than what they had at CES, but unlike the prototype at CES, it actually worked. My experience at the CES suite was that it was cool, but the lack of cover glass made it feel cheap, like an old Kindle. Hopefully, the touch solution they eventually implement will add some texture to it to make it feel more like glass. In addition, having two displays means it will be thicker and consume more power. Furthermore, it will need a larger battery which can explain the increased thickness. Samsung is working on flexible batteries which should go into production by the end of the year and may help with the thickness.

Samsung’s Foldable Smartphone Display Specs

Denison also talked about some of the innovations Samsung developed to produce this new display and showed cross-section of the display below. He indicated:

  • They had to replace the cover glass, which is inherently inflexible, with a plastic cover film.
  • They had to develop a new foldable adhesive.
  • They reduced the thickness of the polarizer by 45%.

Of course, many of the materials developments were achieved by Samsung’s suppliers with Nitto Denko providing the polarizer and 3M likely providing the foldable adhesive. The cross section also showed a shock absorbent film which we recently heard about from Dow-Dupont. Although the cover film can prevent scratches, an impact protection film is also required to ensure the underlying OLED and TFT structures survive significant impact such as dropping the product from a certain height. We believe this will add another 25mm to the thickness along with another 25mm for the foldable adhesive.

Infinity Display Cross Section

What we also learned about the new foldable smartphone is that there is not an under the display fingerprint sensor. It will likely have a fingerprint sensor on the front or back or both. There is certainly ample room on the front given the wide top and bottom bezels. The main camera will be on the back. It is also expected to adopt the currently unreleased Qualcomm Snapdragon 8150 chipset which may or may not have a dedicated neural processing unit for advanced AI implementations.

One of the biggest concerns regarding the adoption of foldable displays is the operating system. Would it be ready for foldable displays, smoothly/quickly changing orientation when the display aspect ratio was changed? This appears to no longer be a concern as Android announced at its Android Development Summit in Silicon Valley that it is officially adding support for foldable displays as shown below. Android apps will rum seamlessly as the device folds. Samsung’s foldable smartphone will be able to run 3 apps at the same time in what Samsung calls Multi Active Window.

Android Announces Support for Foldables

Android VP of Engineering Dave Burke indicated that a big part of making foldable devices work is something called screen continuity. For example, if you're using an app in folded mode and want to switch to unfolded, specific software is needed to make that transition seamless. If you start a video on a folded, smaller screen and then unfold the display to utilize the larger, tablet sized display, the app will seamlessly transfer to the bigger screen without missing a beat. We're optimizing Android for this new form factor. And, making changes to help developers everywhere take advantage of the possibilities this creates for amazing new experiences, new ways to engage and delight your users.

There were a lot of rumors in the Korean press this week about the Samsung foldable phone as one would expect. Regarding pricing, it is expected to be priced at 2M Korean Won or around $1750. This is consistent with our understanding as well as the foldable display itself reportedly costs around $175. There were also rumors around volumes with one component supplier indicating in the media that they are supplying 100K units in October, 200K units in November and 200K units in December. These volumes are prior to Samsung’s yields. The article also commented that Samsung already has 100K finished units in inventory and will continue to build inventory prior to launch. It was later reported that Samsung will build 1M units of inventory before it launches and will build more according to demand. In forecasting the foldable smartphone market, one of the biggest issues for us is whether Samsung Electronics will allow Samsung Display to provide this product to other brands as well or not. We hear that SDC may start building for others in 2H’19. We expect to see the new foldable smartphone at CES, formally introduced at the Mobile World Congress in February and start shipping in March. What do you think? Would you buy one?

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Written by

Ross Young