Here's what using foldable smartphones will be like in the future

Key Points
  • Xiaomi recently revealed a prototype tablet that can fold up into a phone.
  • This is a trend we'll likely see from phone and tablet makers soon, and the software is ready.
  • Samsung, LG, Microsoft and others have announced — or are reportedly working on — new products that bend and fold.
This Xiaomi prototype folds from a tablet into a phone.

Chinese phone maker Xiaomi recently revealed a device that, at first glance, looks like a tablet. Then it folds up into a phone. While it's just a prototype, it's an example of a trend that's likely to occur in the coming years, as popular device makers begin to sell products with folding screens.

Check it out for yourself:

The Xiaomi device, as you can see in the video above which was posted to Xiaomi's social networks and later put on YouTube by The Verge, looks like a normal tablet at first. But, later in the clip, the tablet is folded into thirds, with the left and right side bent behind the center. The tablet suddenly becomes about the size of a large cellphone, a form factor that makes sense for some things that a tablet doesn't work well for, like placing phone calls.

Xiaomi isn't the only company taking advantage of advancements in display technology.

LG at CES 2019 unveiled a TV that can completely roll itself up when you're not watching it. Samsung also recently revealed a prototype phone that can unfold into a larger, tablet-like device. It promised the new phone is "coming soon." Rumors have long suggested that Microsoft has been working on a Surface product that can fold in half. Apple hasn't publicly talked about plans for a folding device, but it has sourced its iPhone displays from Samsung, which means the tech is ready if it wants it.

Watch this super thin TV roll up and disappear in seconds
Watch this super thin TV roll up and disappear in seconds

The software is ready, too.

Operating systems running on these new products will need to know what to do when a user bends it in half. Google's Android operating system officially started to support foldable devices in November, when Samsung revealed its prototype.

"You can simply unfold the device to get a larger tablet-sized screen. As you unfold, the app seamlessly transfers to the bigger screen without missing a beat," Android's vice president of engineering, Dave Burke, said at the time.

Meanwhile, The Verge said earlier this month that Microsoft has been building support for foldable displays into Windows. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Motorola is planning to relaunch the Razr phone as a foldable device.

And yet, we're still waiting for consumer-ready devices we can actually buy. News on that front may be just around the corner.

At the Mobile World Congress in February, where lots of companies typically unveil new smartphones for the global market, it's likely we'll see advancements in foldable products. Samsung is expected to unveil its official foldable phone at its annual Galaxy phone launch event on Feb. 20.

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