Samsung is making foldable screens cool again and I’m excited

Are foldable phones and tablets cool again? It will be up to Samsung, LG, TCL and the other device manufacturers.

But after seeing Samsung Flex Hybridwhich folds and slides, this week at CES 2023, I’m starting to feel excited again about the cutting edge technology that has yet to catch on in a serious way. While the concept model remained in the hands of a Samsung employee, I renewed my hope for the possibilities we have yet to explore with screens that can fold, bend, slide and roll.

Read more: Check out our live blog for CES 2023, must-see reveals, most futuristic technology and craziest gadgets.

As someone who has used a number of these early units from Samsung, Motorola, Oppo and others, I must admit been a little disillusioned with the appeal of collapsibles in recent years. The Flex Hybrid and other prototypes from Samsung’s Display division may have changed that.

There were sliding, folding, and even some devices that used multiple technologies, any of which could appear in the not-so-distant future. The Flex Hybrid is a foldable tablet that has an extra screen that can be pulled out, with the demo giving an example of watching a football match on the full tablet before pulling out the extra screen to see stats and other information.

Other prototype models, such as the Flex S, can be folded over several times, giving you a smartphone-sized screen when closed and a large tablet when open. This is something straight out of HBO’s Westworld.

Samsung Display Flex S prototypes

Samsung Display’s Flex S looks like a tablet screen straight out of HBO’s Westworld.

David Katzmaier/CNET

The new screens seem to bring life to the foldable era, which got off to a rocky start with one original Samsung Galaxy Fold which had well-documented problems in 2019. Subsequent models like the last one Z Flip 4 and Z Fold 4 have shown a lot of promise and panache, but none of them have caught on despite being pretty excellent devices – we’re talking about 1.1% of the global foldable smartphone market share, according to research firm IDC.

Still, the appeal of foldable devices among buyers is growing as prices gradually drop and improvements are made, and IDC expects shipments of foldable phones to reach 41.5 million units in 2026, up from 13.5 million units in 2022.

Again, these prototypes are not intended to be finished products, but rather showcases of technology that the company has been working on. It is also developed by Samsung Display, which is a different part of Samsung than the Samsung Electronics unit that makes and sells phones, tablets, computers, TVs and other electronic devices (although the two also work together).

Samsung Display is one supplier, and their screens are found in a number of products not made by the South Korean tech giant. So while Samsung makes the screens, it’s very possible that another company could bring some of these to market.

“These are all prototypes, concept units, obviously,” says John Jacobs, vice president of sales and marketing at Samsung Display. “We are not going to go out and build millions [of these displays] until we have customers.” Jacobs hopes that those customers, from phone or PC companies to automakers looking for displays for their upcoming cars, will see the concepts and be inspired.

“That’s what we want to do here is help, if you will… enable creativity and imagination.”

The onus is on other companies to take these displays and build working products around them. While Samsung is demonstrating the technology at CES, it didn’t let media attendees pick up and use the prototypes on their own. Instead, the company had employees handling the demos.

But unlike so many products and concepts at CES, Samsung seems ready for these displays to take the next step toward becoming a real product. Jacobs actually doesn’t think we have to wait too long.

“I think [in] 2024, especially multiple devices, becomes much more of a possibility.”

A lot more work needs to be done by Samsung and others to get us there, but I can’t wait.

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