Smartphone Form Factor Developments Could Be on a Roll

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3Q 2019 | IN-5561

In the wake of companies such as Samsung and Huawei’s struggles to release their foldable Galaxy Fold and Mate X smartphones, there are rumors that Sony is bypassing the foldable form factor and instead working on a device with a rollable screen. According to rumors, the 5G device is currently in the prototype phase and is expected to be officially announced by the company by the end of this year. While specifications are likely to change, it is thought that the smartphone will have a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 chipset, a Qualcomm X50 5G Modem, a 3,220 mAh battery, and a 10x zoom camera, all of which will likely add up to an expensive starting price.

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Rumors Suggest Sony Is Working on a Rollable Smartphone

NEWS


In the wake of companies such as Samsung and Huawei’s struggles to release their foldable Galaxy Fold and Mate X smartphones, there are rumors that Sony is bypassing the foldable form factor and instead working on a device with a rollable screen. According to rumors, the 5G device is currently in the prototype phase and is expected to be officially announced by the company by the end of this year. While specifications are likely to change, it is thought that the smartphone will have a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 chipset, a Qualcomm X50 5G Modem, a 3,220 mAh battery, and a 10x zoom camera, all of which will likely add up to an expensive starting price.

Examples of Rollable Screen Technologies

IMPACT


Sony is reportedly working with LG, which has previous experience with rollable displays in the form of its Signature Organic Light-Emitting Diode (OLED) TV R television, for its rollable smartphone. The LG TV has a large screen that can withstand being rolled away roughly 50,000 times (the limit is in place because the roller mechanism could eventually fail) into its base when not in use, thanks to a light, thin (few millimeters thick), durable OLED screen with no backlight. LG has also confirmed that it is exploring how to use its rollable technology in a smartphone or tablet form factor, and is looking into the complications of adding touchscreen technology, too. This is not the only time that rollable technology has been investigated in the mobile devices market:

  • Sony has patents in place that show how a rollable and a foldable smartphone display similar to the one it is rumored to be working on currently would work.
  • Samsung illustrated in a patent that a rollable, belt-like OLED screen could be placed on rails to allow users to extend the size of a smartphone’s screen by pulling apart the top and bottom, giving the device a small form factor with an extendable screen of potentially any size.
  • Lenovo has also demonstrated a rollable laptop that allows its screen to flex and bend. The company has confirmed that this is just a concept for now, but could be the future form factor for laptops.
  • BOE, the Chinese display company, has been working on a rollable display in the form of a 12.3 inch device that rolls down into a 7 inch tablet. It is currently just a screen that does not support touch, but the company has confirmed that it is working on adding that technology.
  • Scientists at the Human Media Lab at Queen’s University in Ontario have been working on a touchscreen prototype device with a 7.5 inch 2K display that has the ability to roll around a cylinder using two wheels on either end of the screen or a currently unspecified gesture control. While the wheels of the prototype are currently large, the scientists are working on reducing them, potentially allowing the device to roll up to be the size of a pen.
  • Rollable technology has also been explored in wearables such as the Nubia Alpha, which has a flexible screen that rolls around the device and, therefore, the user’s wrist. Apple also has a patent in place for a smartwatch with a display that rolls around the band thanks to a flexible screen.

Smartphone Form Factors Set to Continue to Develop

RECOMMENDATIONS


The rumor that Sony is working on a rollable device comes at an interesting time, with the smartphone market currently experiencing stagnation and the newest shake-up to form factors, foldable screens, currently experiencing delays of an unknown length due to issues with their folding mechanisms. As it still in the rumor stage, a rollable Sony smartphone may not hit the stores any time soon, but with other companies such as LG and Samsung also said to be working on rollable smartphones, the smartphone market is moving toward devices with new, intriguing form factors, with the aim to reignite shipment numbers and provide customers with the new features and technologies that they are demanding.

There are clearly lessons to be learned from the issues that have been seen in foldable smartphones. In the case of the Galaxy Fold, issues were discovered when the device was released to journalists and Samsung is now working hard to fix them, having stated that the device was released too early. Companies that are looking to release rollable smartphones need to employ rigorous testing to ensure that the devices fully work before they are released to ensure that they are successful and do not face the same issues as foldable smartphones. Rollable technology is also very similar to foldable technology but with the added complications of further points of movement, which requires more flexible components within the device itself, not just the screen, and will therefore require a greater amount development as well. So far, there has been no word about any flexible or foldable chipsets, batteries, or other components, which will likely delay the launch of a fully rollable device, or at least suggests that a rollable device will have a small, fixed area that will hold the components. The operating system for devices with a rollable screen will also need to be modified, or a new one created, to allow for the changing screen sizes and shapes, in a similar way to what has had to be done for foldable devices.

Like the foldable smartphones that have already been announced, it is likely that any rollable smartphones that reach the market will have high starting prices, limiting them to the high-end market for several years. However, the hope is that this will help promote growth in the smartphone market, as well as the wider mobile devices market, with smartphone, tablet, laptop, and wearable vendors likely to continue to develop devices with new features and technologies at varied prices, allowing a larger number of consumers to upgrade their devices.

Sony has experienced difficulties over the years and struggled to maintain a significant share of the smartphone market, with past rumors suggesting that the company may exit the market altogether or significantly reduce its staffing numbers. However, the company is now reinventing itself, led by the revamp of its flagship smartphones with the Xperia 1, which has a cinematic 21:9 aspect ratio, and its work on a 5G clamshell-style folding smartphone expected to be released in 2020. When these are added to the rumored rollable smartphone, it is clear that Sony is working hard on improving and reinvigorating its points of differentiation in the smartphone market, an approach it hopes will arrest its decline and win consumers back to the brand.

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