Samsung’s new Galaxy Fold smartphone will be the first of many devices with flexible screens in the coming years, a company director has said.
The Fold is the Korean technology giant’s first major device to use folding screen technology and will go on sale in the UK on May 3 for £1,800.
It will be the first of a number of foldable smartphones to launch in the UK in 2019, with Huawei’s Mate X expected later in the year.
Mark Notton, Samsung’s mobile director of product portfolio and strategy for mobile in Europe, said Fold will be a benchmark for how smartphones will look in years to come, despite initial questions about the design of such phones.
“I think what I’ve sensed over the last few months is maybe a healthy level of scepticism about the whole new form-factor: Is it going to work OK? How is it going to feel in the hand? Is it going to feel premium or is it going to feel like a prototype?” he said.
“Obviously, I knew how great it was but we had to keep it under wraps until we were ready to show it to the world and it is so satisfying to see people’s reactions.
“It really showcases what the technology will become over the coming years. This is the first of many foldable devices that we will bring out over the next few years and the fact that we’ve taken that first step and had such a great reaction to it has been really pleasing.”
The phone features a traditional screen on the outside but opens up like a book to reveal a 7.3in display inside the device.
The software has been designed so apps being used on one screen automatically resize and jump to the other display when the device is opened or closed.
Samsung has been working on the technology for 10 years, and Mr Notton said the time spent developing the device gives the company an edge over its rivals.
“When we showcased our first foldable screen – it’s easy to showcase something – but to have something (that) feels premium, is going to be long-lasting, that has a user interface that has everything designed for it – it’s very difficult to do and it takes time, so the fact that we’ve been working on this for so long gives us the edge there,” he said.
“I think also the form-factor (is important). The way that it opens and closes like a book is very natural, and a very natural way to interact with the device.
“So it’s not something that you have to really re-learn as a consumer. We could’ve done it in a completely different way and then the consumer has to re-learn how to use a phone.
“With this one, you have the single screen like a normal smartphone on the outside and then, when you open it, it is like interacting with a book or a laptop or something like that.”
Huawei’s Mate X features a single screen on the outside of the device that covers the front and back, opening outwards to become a larger display.
Following the reveal of both devices earlier this year, some industry experts said Huawei’s design was more appealing, but Mr Notton suggested keeping the Fold familiar to traditional smartphones will be key.
“It was one of the key driving factors for how we worked on the design, because with any next step in technology, there is always going to be adjustment in how consumers use and engage with the product, and that’s what we want to do as well, we want to have that large screen to drive new experiences and new ways to interact,” he said.
“But it still has to be approachable – it can’t be too wacky and out there because it will be more of a point of interest on a shelf rather than something that people want to use on a day-to-day basis.
“So things like making the screen fuller protected for everyday use and when it’s in your pocket were critical. If somebody’s not happy to use a device day-to-day they’re not going to buy it.”
Mr Notton said he expects other areas of technology to begin embracing foldable displays.
“Obviously with the smartphone, we’ll see different iterations and different versions of the Fold coming over the years,” he said.
“You’ll also start to see the folding screen technology coming to other devices. Even around the house, for example – there is a prototype that’s been shown around things like smart speakers and having a cylindrical design with a screen that goes all the way around.
“So, this is the iteration on smartphone and I think the really exciting thing for us is because we’re so far ahead on the foldable technology, we’ll be able to take this, build on it and integrate it into many other things in the future.”