In the last ten years, we’ve seen smartphone technology growing leaps and bounds with new innovations hitting the market almost every quarter. That leaves us wondering as to what the future of smartphones will be like.
Ever since the launch of the Samsung Galaxy Fold, Huawei showcasing its Mate X, and the Moto Razr, many futurologists and industry experts tout foldable tech to be the future.
But as much as foldable tech sounds exciting there are a lot of challenges that stakeholders have to face in order to adopt and sustain foldable technology. Here’s what industry experts have to say about those challenges and opportunities.
What’s On The Inside Matters
Qualcomm recently introduced its new lineup of flagship chipsets with the launch of the Snapdragon 865 and 765 with 5G at the helm of it all, which means that high-speed internet is the primary focus for the coming years.
What’s bemusing is that even 5G technology will have a crucial role to play in how manufacturers will design their phones.
It is believed that with the introduction of 5G, having a dense network of millimeter-wave will enable us to run a lot of things on the cloud thereby increasing demand for more powerful phones that offer versatility in terms of its design.
“5G will enable you to basically consume high-definition 4K video, which will be as easy as streaming music. So your phone becomes your television. Users would want that flexibility to have a bigger screen. Also your phone will become your own Nintendo Switch and you’re going to play mainstream games on it. That’s one use of foldable tech”Cristiano Amon, President, Qualcomm
Currently, only foldable technology offers the flexibility to have both a small and big display on the same device.
Cristiano also added that a fully capable 5G ecosystem will give birth to another device like an eyeglass that will have cameras and some rendering capabilities from the cloud that people will be able to wear and interact with augmented reality.
At this rate, the day is not far when you’ll be rendering augmented reality straight from the cloud in a hologram. Something like what you see in the Iron Man movies.
Qualcomm has also introduced its 3D Sonic fingerprint technology which is a more secure way to unlock your phone using fingerprint. The fact that foldable display does uses flexible OLED panel, gives chipset makers more avenues in strengthening smartphone security.
“The good news for ultrasonic fingerprint sensors is that we work only with flexible OLED. We work even better with foldable OLED. The coupling of your finger to the top of the glass is now coupling with plastic which is better now.”Gordon Thomas, Senior Director, Product Management, Qualcomm 3D Sonic
As much as the flexible display may be good for fingerprint security, American glass manufacturing company Corning believes that glass is a better material of choice for foldable technology.
“Plastic covers have inherent issues:they crease, they have high warp, poor transmission and they scratch. We believe glass is a better material choice. We are currently sampling our ultra-thin bendable glass innovation with our customers and continue to work with them on optimising the device system to best address their evolving design requirements.”Corning spokesperson
Corning also believes that a compatible glass solution for foldable displays will be available in the next 12 to 18 months.
It’s a no-brainer that more complex forms of technologies in smartphones are going to make things more difficult for phone manufacturers to accommodate.
Foldable displays are intricate and require a higher level of engineering to work properly. For example, Huawei used something they call the Falcon Wing Mechanical Hinge which made the Huawei Mate X the device that it is today.
“It might be a relatively easier job to have a foldable phone with two parts that are a screen and a keypad but the challenge was building two foldable parts that are a screen and provide a new interfacing mode between user and device.”Tornado Pan, Country Manager, Consumer Business Group, Huawei India
Chipset manufacturers also have an important role to play here. They first need to ascertain the size of the display and the rest of the system architecture, in order to be compatible with the right aspect ratio as well as display resolution. It also needs to make sure there are enough interfaces in the chipset module to support multiple display panels concurrently.
Also, customers are no longer satisfied with a single-camera unit on their phones. The more the sensors, the more use cases you have for a smartphone camera.
But just adding more cameras to a phone isn’t enough. Chipset makers have the challenge to make sure that the module gets the necessary processing power in order to perform at its optimum level.
“If you look at things like 108-megapixels, you need a lot of processing power in the ISP and that’s pretty easy to do in the 700 to 800 tier Snapdragon chipset. With phones having 400-600 tier chipsets, it’s really difficult for us to justify building a camera that is capable of 108-megapixels in that price range.”Judd Heape, Senior Director, Product Management Qualcomm Technologies
The new top tier Snapdragon 865 chipset offers support for up to 200-megapixels. So can we can expect a figure like that to land upon a smartphone spec sheet this year? Most likely.
When Will Foldable Be Affordable?
In order to shape future smartphones, there is a lot of pow-wows that goes on between the chipset makers and the OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturer).
Speaking to Kuldeep Malik, Country Head, MediaTek, we learned that the display provider takes care of the API (application programming interface) and integration for the OS and the software. From the device drivers to the interfaces, these provisions are to be made by the OEM.
The chipset makers and OEMs need to sit together to come up with a cohesive solution. This helps both parties come up with better pricing strategies.
Currently, Samsung, Huawei, and Apple pretty much consume the flexible OLED supply in the smartphone industry. With most of the Chinese OEMs, you see flexible OLEDs in the premium tier but that's about to change.
Chinese companies like BOE, CSOT, Visionox, and Tianma are all flexible OLED display vendors in China. Knowing China, don’t be surprised if you see a foldable smartphone in the mid-tier and even the low tier this year itself.
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