How soon until bendable smartphones market-ready?

How soon until bendable smartphones market-ready? - Lovefone, London

For the past couple years, there has been talk of flexible smartphones being right around the corner, but we haven’t really seen it happen yet. Sure, there have been small steps in that direction, and in the past, manufacturers have claimed that it is coming soon, but it seems that the technology involved to make a bendable phone may be just slightly out of reach. Any real attempt at a flexible smartphone so far has been pretty lackluster with battery issues of dead pixels ruining the allure of this bleeding edge tech. So, how long will we be waiting for these phones to become available, really?

A flexible smartphone would surely be a very neat thing to have, but it could also solve some common problems for smartphone users. For one, it could greatly increase the durability of smartphones, something that will always be a huge selling point for smartphone manufacturers.  On the other hand, flexible phones may change how easy and practical it is to go get your phone screen fixed instead of having to replace your phone altogether. There are also some big possibilities for functionality that could accompany a flexible smartphone, as demonstrated by the latest bendable smartphone prototype, the ReFlex.

This prototype was built at Queens University in Canada, and is made up of a 720p flexible LG OLED screen connected to bend sensors and haptic feedback motors. The bend sensors allow the phone screen to react when the phone is bent, allowing the bending of the screen to actually be an interactive thing, and not just the ability to bend your phone. The prototype demonstrates this function by bending the phone to flip pages in an e-book, and even by playing Angry Birds by use of bending the screen. The haptic motors even react to allow you to actually feel the pages turning, or the stretching of the slingshot in Angry Birds. This makes using your screen even more mentally stimulating, as it actually alerts your senses more than a normal touchscreen.

Prototype of a bendable smartphone

The researchers who built this prototype plan to show the device at some conventions and continue to work on making it a real possibility for smartphone users, but they also claim that commercial devices will possibly not be available for another five years, maybe sooner.

The ReFlex is by no means the first attempt at making a flexible smartphone. A couple years back, LG rolled out the LG G Flex, a curved smartphone that could be slightly bent to become flat. This is sort of a half-measure when you think of the possibilities of a flexible phone, especially in light of the ReFlex. Regardless, it shows that this advancement that has been in the works for quite a while. The slightly curved screen of the G Flex allowed for a perhaps more comfortable fit when putting the phone to your ear, and a more enjoyable experience when watching videos on your phone, but the slight (and it is very slight) bend didn’t really do much. Around the same time, Samsung was working on a similar bendable phone, the Round. Still, nothing too special.

So why are bendable phones such a unicorn in the smartphone world? Well, for one, making a flexible screen is proving to be much easier than making a flexible phone, including the battery, processor, and anything else that makes your phone tick. This is being tested, but is probably one of the biggest hurdles in bringing this technology to fruition. Afterall, LG recently released unveiled an 18-inch screen that can be rolled up like a newspaper. The technology is there, it is just unclear which big-name smartphone developer will be the first to go truly wide with their marketing of this currently niche and novelty technology.

LG bendable display

Samsung is reportedly working on a new flexible phone that has many possibilities, such as being able to be folded in half. However, it was originally supposed to be released in January, which obviously never happened. We know we will get bendable phones… eventually, but when? A bendable smartphone is perhaps one of the most interesting developments being made in smartphone technology, right up there with Apple's 3D Touch and projector touchscreens. It may be taking a while to come to life as more than an overpriced novelty or proof-of-concept, and while it is still unclear when exactly we will get flexible phones, it looks like we can definitely expect to see them in five years or less. Maybe much sooner.

By Dia Ascenzi

March 30, 2016