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Smartphones that fold up are coming by 2019, says Samsung engineer

Samsung foldable display
Samsung Display

A Samsung engineer recently said that he expects foldable smartphone displays to be ready for mass consumption in 2019.

"Because the bezel-free display currently sells so well, we still have enough time to develop foldable display[s]," Samsung Display principal engineer Kim Tae-woong told The Korea Herald. "The technology is expected to be mature around 2019."

A foldable display will pave the way for gadgets that can be folded into smaller sizes. Imagine a tablet that can be folded into a smartphone that can be folded into something even tinier and more pocket-friendly.

Phone-makers have experimented with this sort of "foldable" technology before, though rather unsuccessfully. Kyocera launched a phone on Sprint named the "Echo" that folded in half, but used two separate display panels instead of a truly foldable display.

A report from Bloomberg last summer suggested that Samsung was going to launch a foldable smartphone much sooner. The device, reportedly code named "Project Valley" inside Samsung, was expected to make its debut in February during Mobile World Congress. No such device ever materialized in public view.

There's another reason why Samsung may be dragging its feet with foldable screens, though.

Samsung is currently leading the market in bendable displays. Its curvy displays have been used in its flagship smartphones for the past several years, most recently making an appearance on the Galaxy S8 that launches later this month. They're used to minimize the bezels on the front of a smartphone, allowing for a display that appears to pour over the edges of the device. Foldable displays will make bendable screens obsolete.

The comments made by Tae-woong suggest that Samsung is going to take its time perfecting foldable displays, especially while interest in its bendable screens is still growing. Rumor has it, for example, that Apple will finally adopt Samsung's display technology, possibly employing a bendable AMOLED display in the iPhone 8.