Huawei Looks to Beat Samsung to Market With a Foldable Phone

Huawei Looks to Beat Samsung to Market With a Foldable Phone

Rumors of a foldable phone have circulated for years, but someone might finally, maybe release one in the next year. Samsung, long at the forefront of display technology, is reportedly aiming for a flexible Galaxy phone launch, but Huawei might try to beat it to market. If 2018 was the year of the notch, maybe 2019 will be the year of the fold.

Technically, the display in your phone might already be flexible. OLED panels are manufactured on a flexible substrate, which is why there have been so many demos of flexible screens at trade shows for the better part of a decade. LG even released a few G Flex phones that could bend a little bit without breaking. It’s been possible to make a display flexible for ages, but turning that into a foldable phone is another story. Phones with OLED panels aren’t flexible or foldable because the panel is under glass.

A foldable phone could allow for convenient one-handed operation when folded up, but you could unfurl the full display when playing a game or watching a video. OLEDs can fold, but they don’t take kindly to that treatment long-term — manufacturing changes are needed before a foldable phone makes sense. Current panels will develop creases and dead zones after excessive folding. Samsung makes almost all the smartphone-size OLED panels in the world, so you’d expect its phone to be the first with a robust foldable panel. According to the new report, Huawei will partner with Chinese supplier BOE for a new flexible OLED panel.

A demo of BOE’s flexible OLED technology. It’s the same basic demo we’ve seen at trade shows for years.
A demo of BOE’s flexible OLED technology. It’s the same basic demo we’ve seen at trade shows for years.

BOE doesn’t have anywhere near the manufacturing capacity of Samsung, so Huawei’s ability to produce foldable phones would be extremely limited. The first run of devices could be as low as 20,000-30,000. The device wouldn’t be heavily marketed, but Huawei expects early adopters to scoop up the first foldable phone. This unnamed smartphone would mainly serve as proof of Huawei’s industrial design leadership. The company wants to show off, basically.

The report pegs a launch date for the foldable Huawei phone as soon as early 2019. Samsung’s foldable phone has been rumored for a mid-2019 launch, and the price tag could go as high as $2,000. Huawei working with another Chinese company could keep the price lower, but it’s no stranger to expensive phones, either. The Porsche Design editions of its flagship phones can sell for $1,200 or more.

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