With more and more Android smartphone vendors coming out with their take on the foldable phone concept, and Apple rumors swirling about a possible future foldable iPhone, Google appears keen to get in on the act as soon as this year with its first foldable Pixel device.
MacRumors concept render
According to a new report by
TheElec, Samsung is in the process of developing in-folding foldable OLED panels to supply to Oppo, Xiaomi, and Google. The panels are said to be destined for use in devices to be launched later in 2021, and Google has reportedly requested Samsung Display develop a foldable OLED panel around 7.6-inches in size.
Documents leaked in August last year suggested Google plans to release a foldable pixel phone in the fourth quarter of 2021. Google confirmed in 2019 that it is developing technology that could be used in foldable devices, although at the time the company played down the prospect of actually launching a foldable, saying it didn’t see “a clear use case yet.”
That said, Google develops the software that has to run on all Android foldable devices, which would put it at a distinct advantage when it comes to foldable hardware-software integration.
Today’s report adds further support to the prospect of a Google foldable, which will use the now more commonly preferred in-folding design, demonstrated most recently by the Xiaomi Mate X2, whose predecessor was out-folding by comparison. According to Xiaomi, advances in hinge technology and materials used in the Mate X2 allow for a seamless fold without a gap and eliminate the problem of display creasing.
Samsung was first to launch a consumer foldable device, but the 2019 Galaxy Fold suffered from major design issues including display creasing and panel breakages along the hinge due to the ingress of debris and other issues.
Thanks to lessons learned from the design of the Fold, Samsung improved the design and eventually brought the Fold back to market. The company has since released foldable flip phones – most recently the clamshell-style Galaxy Z Flip.
Market research firm Omdia expects foldable OLED sales to reach US$2.1 billion this year, a 203% increase from 2020. Most of the sales are expected to come through foldable panels made by Samsung Display, and while Apple appears to have not made a firm decision on whether it will launch a foldable smartphone, previous rumors have suggested that Apple has requested foldable display samples from Samsung for testing purposes in a future iPhone.
Samsung has historically been a key supplier to Apple, providing the OLED screens for iPhones. The company intends to dominate the foldable display market as a supplier, and was considering a move to step up production to 10 million units a year depending on demand.
The repeated insinuation of Samsung’s involvement and orders being placed by Apple offers a more concrete suggestion that work on a foldable iPhone is continuing at pace, with some rumors suggesting a release as early as 2023.