2019 marks the evolution of the foldable smartphones from prototypes to fully-functional, marketable devices. In the past few months, we’ve witnessed nearly as many different foldable smartphone concepts as there are phone manufacturers.
Foldable devices are all the rage. Television maker, TCL is also getting in on the game. The Chinese company which is best known for budget televisions, and also phones through its BlackBerry Mobile and Alcatel brands.
According to company renderings and patent image filings, TCL is working on at least five new devices comprising flexible displays, including
two smartphones, two tablets, and a flexible phone that will curve into a smartwatch.(Nostalgia!)
While Samsung, Huawei and Xiaomi are leading the trend for foldable devices, Chinese consumer electronics company, TCL, is adopting a rather different approach! After registering five patents in one go, we can see four of the devices might already look similar to concepts seen in the past. Four of them are variants on a theme (folding inward or outward, horizontally or vertically), but the fifth model would be able to turn into a smartwatch-style bracelet which seems pretty cool.
One tablet features a display that folds inward, somewhat like a clamshell, while the other has a display on the outside just like the Royole Flexpai. There are two other variants that fold on the inside and outside, but they bend at the horizontal line, like traditional flip phones. The last smarphone appears to be tall and skinny and is able to curve into a cuff around a wrist. Though none of the devices share the same design as Samsung’s foldable phone.
It is rather difficult to understand whether this foldable concept device will function as a smartwatch or smart bracelet. However, this isn’t the first time we’re seeing a bendable device that snaps across the wrist like a smartwatch; Lenovo released a similar foldable bracelet-watch in the Year 2016.
While carrying all of the essential software applications, Android aims to support foldable smartphones, but it isn’t certain how well that would work in practice. Details about all of the five devices is limited, and CNET’s report doesn’t shed much light on the five devices that were patented. Though TCL is a renowned television manufacturer but has rather a low profile when it comes to smartphones.
If TCL is actually looking to really make a mark in the smartphone industry and if all these devices come to reality, then TCL has made a calculated jump by starting its ventures with the latest smartphone trends right now. There’s a point to note that there’s always a chance that none of these five devices see the light of day and actually be made, but TCL has already confirmed the release of its foldable smarphone by 2020. Although, there’s no confirmation on the type of the device that’ll be released at that time.
TCL has struck a licensing deal with BlackBerry Mobile to make productivity-focused smartphones, and has itself licensed out the Palm Phone which is a tiny phone that’s a companion for your main smartphone. The company is hoping to build up its reputation by jumping on one of the flashiest trends in the smartphone industry right now.
Almost all of the major Android phone makers and even unknown startups are working on foldable devices. Google has also said that it’s committed to providing Android support for foldable devices. Startups like Royole already sell its foldable device, the FlexPai, for $1,318 (£1,209) for its 6GB RAM and 128GB variant. The Royole FlexPai closes like a book, with its screen on the outside. Apple has also filed patents for foldable phone designs.
A foldable handset might be inevitable due to Xiaomi’s recent acquisition for a stake in TCL. TCL is all set to face steep competition in the foldable smartphone market from brands such as Samsung, LG, Sony and Vivo, which already have some kind of foldable/bendable device in the pipeline.
Whatever ships, it might not live up to people’s expectations. Current bendable displays are not able to fold themselves alike paper because they are typically be thicker. The relatively exotic nature of the hardware tends to carry a premium price.
Whether or not TCL will introduce such models is not certain, however more information and facts are expected to be announced by the company in the Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2019.