Potential pitfalls for the bendable screen
Yesterday, we talked about how potentially revolutionary foldable screens could be to the industry. Go ahead and take a look at the article, because this could be a pretty big deal. Suddenly a whole new world of form factors are possible with this tech. Phones could fold out into tablets and then into laptops. This could be the start of something great. But, let’s not get too ahead of ourselves, right? We’ve had our fun, speculating about what might be to come. Now it’s time to rain on our collective parade and ponder the other side of the coin. The challenges that will come with folding tech are too great to ignore.
Right off the bat, consider bulk. There’s a truism that you can’t fold a piece of paper more than 7 times. The reason for this is because every fold doubles the number of sheets of paper, from 2 to 4 to 8 to 16 to 32, etc. Before you know it, you’re trying to fold a phone book. Spoiler alert: phone books don’t fold. Anyway.
The point is that every layer of screen you want to fold out of a phone is going to add a comparable layer or thickness to the phone starting point. Let’s say you want a phone that unfolds once into a tablet. Well, that phone is probably going to be twice as thick as a normal phone. If you want to go one more layer, suddenly your phone is three or four times thicker than the tablet you’ll end up with. That is one freakin’ thick phone.
Perhaps the cost of bulk could be minimized by just folding the screen, and not the components. The guts of the phone – the processor, memory, battery, etc. – would remain under the first fold and the rest of the unfolding would just be screen. Still, I’m not so sure that saves a lot of thickness. Don’t get me wrong; I’m on record for a long time saying I don’t care about bulk as long as it’s functional bulk, but even I have limits.
Worth the weird?
Beyond that, you have to consider the “weird” factor. Folding phones will be incredibly weird. There is a reason every phone on the planet these days is a flat slab. Some might argue it’s because the tech hasn’t been there. But is that really the sole reason? People fear change. Moreover, people are reluctant to invest dollars into an unproven concept. I mean just how useful will a folding tablet be? No one knows, because no one has owned one. Some of us are intrigued by the concept, but it’s one thing to be intrigued; it’s another thing to pay to be intrigued.
What scares me most about the concept of folding screens is the sheer variety of possibilities that might come about. It scares me because – what if we pick wrong the first time out? What if the design that makes it past the cocktail napkin, drafting board, 3D printer, and boardroom…sucks? Stranger things have happened. What worries me is if the concept of the folding phone is fumbled out of the gate, it may lose steam an die. It’ll be hard enough selling the concept to the masses, but selling something awful makes a bad first impression. One from which it may never recover.
Don’t drop the ball
So while the concept of the folding screen is interesting, the execution of it is far from certain. The technology itself is available, as Lenovo showed. But when it’ll be ready for mass production is another thing entirely. It will likely take years before we see anything approaching a consumer product in this area, so I guess my last point is we need to have a lot of patience. This is a mid 2018 concept at the absolute earliest, make no mistake. We’ve made progress, but we still have a long way to go before you or I can buy into this tech.
And those are just the issues I can think of right now. What about you? Can you think of any other issues that might stand in the way of the Lenovo Folio seeing the light of day? Are my concerns unwarranted? Sound off below and let’s talk about it.
Adam Lein, Ryan St. Andrie, and Anton D. Nagy contributed to this article