With few exceptions, top-selling smartphone models from Apple, Samsung, Huawei and the rest — a sea of rectangular slabs with rounded corners and maybe a bezel — lately have reached the limits when it comes to impressing consumers with new design elements to stand out.
Now they are all about the screen.
According to Brett Newman, co-founder of product design firm Daylight Design, the screen is "the point of interface, the centerpiece of the design." Most buyers just want a screen that's durable enough not to crack when dropped, coupled with two diametrically opposed design elements: a bigger, richer screen on which to consume media, but which also lays atop a smaller handset that fits within a palm or pocket. The latter problem is getting closer to being solved.
All the major smartphone makers are quietly working on foldable phones, devices that might use two or more bendable OLED panels that form a large screen when unfolded, according to recent reports. Huawei might have something to show us in October, Samsung's foldable Galaxy X is reportedly due for launch sometime in 2018 or 2019, and Apple's version could come as soon as 2020.
If these devices work well, look sleek and offer a user experience that's as rich or richer than what our iPhone X and Galaxy 8's provide, a flood of phones with 6-inch or 7-inch screens that scrunch down into 3.5- or 4-inch forms might have the potential to shake up the saturated smartphone sector.
"Foldable phones could be the future," Newman said. "But they need to meet the current standards of performance and specifications and be foldable to be widely accepted. If they do both, there is a chance for a significant, sustained meaningful change in the market," he added.