With the release of the iPhone 5S, there’s been a lot of talk about the latest in phone designs. Aside from the fingerprint reader (which has also received its share of criticism), the 5S has had a lukewarm reception sparking many experts to question whether Apple still has the ability to be truly innovative under the leadership of Tim Cooke. Who will make the next revolutionary phone and what will make it a game changer are also on the minds of many tech experts. And with the unveiling of the Samsung Galaxy Round, the world’s first curved-screen smartphone, now is a great time to look at the future of smartphone form factors.
Even though it’s just been released and only for South Korea, the Samsung Galaxy Round has gotten a lot of press for its concave phone. According to Samsung, the curved design makes it easier to grip, and the flexible organic light-emitting diode – or OLED – screen is more durable and cheaper to manufacture (even though it runs for just over 1 million won, or US$1000). However, techies are grumbling. Shara Tibken from CNET says it’s nothing more than a novelty and predicts it won’t be a big seller. And important to note is that even though the OLED screen is flexible on its own, it’s been curved and installed in the Round so as to remain rigid. No bendable phone here.
LG is also producing its own curved OLED phone, having used the display type in a 55-inch television introduced earlier this year. And according to research from IHS Display Bank, the global flexible display market will reach US$1.5 billion by 2016 and US$10 billion by 2019. Perhaps what we will see is not significant market penetration of the curved form factor, but rather the adoption of the OLED screen in smartphones and televisions in the near future.
For the past couple of years, we’ve been seeing prototypes of flexible, pliable, and twistable phones. The OLED technology used in the Round might open the doors for the mass production of bendable phones in the near future. “In the next 18 months or so, we could see Samsung launching foldable display devices,” says Warren Lau, an analyst at Kim Eng Securities Ltd. in Hong Kong. “That is going to be a game changer.”
Not only is Samsung thought to be in the running for the title of the first mass producer of a flexible phone, rumors are also swirling about Apple. Some experts predict that the iPhone 6 will have a flexible form factor, or one that even folds out to be a tablet (see the top image, “3 sizes in 1 package”).
Transparent smartphones are rumored to be release in the next couple of years. Polytron Technologies of Taiwan is developing a transparent phone using – you guessed it – OLED technology. However, Polytron General Manager Sam Yu, stated at the start of the year that the Polytron see-through phone would be in production by the end of the 2013. With less than a dozen weeks in 2013, though, it looks like this may be another pipedream, as was the Lenovo S800. Released in 2011, the phone had a translucent display but it never caught on.
What do you think? Are these designs just crazy gimmicks or are they game changers? Tweet us your thoughts @NapkinBetaBeyond.