Innovations are emerging day by day across the consumer electronics space. They may seem mundane to you today, but billions of people are using smartphones on a daily basis, things we could only imagine of decades ago. As if that wasn’t mind-blowing enough, foldable smartphones are becoming mainstream, and rollable devices may be just beyond the horizon. A handful of phone brands are now competing to launch the first rollable smartphone and one of them is Samsung. We heard only a quick word this spring of an extra-special device that may get some time in the spotlight this summer, it seems like its first rollable devices could be here sooner than expected. This begs the question — will we get to see a rollable phone at Samsung’s Galaxy Unpacked event?
The short answer is “probably not.” Samsung will be officially revealing its flagship Galaxy Z Fold 4 and Galaxy Z Flip 4 smartphones alongside other devices such as the Galaxy Watch 5 series and the Galaxy Buds 2 Pro at its Galaxy Unpacked event. There has been no whiff of the word “rollable” in relation to the event.
What there was was a springtime rumor of a special device dubbed “N4” or a “Project Diamond” that doesn’t relate to the Flip 4 and Fold 4 that may or may not appear at Unpacked. It may have been described as a foldable device rather than a rollable one, but it’s been agreed that it probably won’t go on sale this year.
Before we go too far with talk about a “rollable smartphone,” we shouldn’t lead you down the wrong path on what to expect.
As with any good corporation with large teams of designers and engineers, Samsung is still making its presence in the room known. SamMobile reported on one of its patents back in April which depicted a potential rollable phone design. Samsung also showcased rollable displays at the Society of Information Displays’ Display Week in May (via Android Authority) with some prototypes styled similarly to what the above patents depict.
These so-called “Flex Slidable” form factors feature an extendable chassis that may show all of the display or a smaller portion of it when the device contracts — a scrolling section inside would store the unused part of the panel.
Ultimately, though, we’re just not confident that Samsung will have a finalized rollable smartphone product. There are a number of stages in the development and production processes for any new product where intelligence could more easily leak. The dearth of that intel suggests a whole lot of nothing.
One of the larger engineering hurdles has to do with the expansion and contraction of the device. With internal hardware meant to fit the smallest possible iteration of the extensible form, we’re looking at challenges in the wiring between parts (more wire, more risks of failure, less performance), the durability of the actual components, and the thermal envelope among others. But from what we can tell, this seems to be Samsung’s approach as well as the wider competition’s to integrating rollable displays onto smartphones and it’s a safe bet that a Flex Slideable phone or phablet (or both) will eventually come along.
We wouldn’t be surprised, though, if one such device does make an appearance at Unpacked. Companies always have to be marketing, so this should come as no surprise. Oppo and LG were the earliest to be gunning with tangible rollable concepts in 2021. Oppo’s phone, however, did not meet the company’s lifecycle goal of suurviving 200,000 device expansions and contractions during its testing phase (via The Verge). And not we forget that LG Mobile gave up the business last April.
Sure, Apple and Chinese display maker TCL may have their own intellectual property, but the trails on their products haven’t been as exciting to follow, especially considering that neither have bothered to enter the foldable phone market proper just yet, much less Google.
Samsung has a terrific opportunity to light up the crowd with a tantalizing tease of what it thinks a “rollable phone” should be. Will it cost a lot? For sure. But that detail lands far below what many actually want to know: when will it come? If the company meets this moment during Unpacked on August 10th, we wouldn’t be surprised. Rather, if it fails to do so, we may have a problem here.