A Bendable Phone?
By Max Ross ‘20
Yes, as the title suggests, there are bendable phones. However, to understand the feat of this technology one must understand the history of the concept.
In the 1970s, Xerox PARC theorized a bendable screen in the form of their Gyricon technology which was one of the first e-paper products. Gyricon consisted of a thin sheet of two-sided beads which were sensitive to positive and negative charges. Given the thinness of the screen, it could bend easily, but it could not produce color with the beads. Since the seventies, the problem with creating a bendable phone was finding a material that could bend, project colors, and be transparent. Advances halted up until 2008, when Nokia unveiled the “Morph Concept.” The phone was incredible. The “Morph Concept” was meant to be a phone but its uses were endless: you could bend it around your wrist to make a watch or pull it apart like taffy to make a tablet and more. Nokia continued to revolutionize this bendable technology up until 2011 when they released the Nokia “Kinetic Concept” which reverted to a static rigid position, only bendable in that back panel had a rump-like protrusion which gave the feeling of a bending phone.
Aside from the advances of Nokia, other companies strove to win the race to build the first bendable phone. Companies like Samsung, LG, and even Apple filed a patent for a bendable phone. Despite promises to release this super-phone in the early 2010s, most companies failed to deliver and still haven’t today. Their problems lie in the resolution of OLED, the light-emitting technology which lights up your screen as you read, cannot be bent. The reason stems from the fact that OLED panels are composed of Indium Tin Oxide or ITO. ITO is crystalline and struggles to handle the force associated with bending a phone. If ITO is stressed too much then the material will lose performance. The immediate solution to this problem is a material called Graphene Oxide; however, at 500-2000 dollars per kilogram, the substance is exorbitantly priced and would make smartphones even more expensive. Although, some companies have managed to create a bendable phone without the substance. There is a catch in that the phones only bend on one hinge and are often buggy. For example, you can buy both the ZTE Axon (400$) and the Flexpai (1300$) phones right now.
The problem is that they simply don’t work well. Reviews of both phones complain of laggy animations and constant phone orientation problems. Not to mention their problems along the hinge: either the rubber underneath falls apart or the screen on the hinge blacks out and does not work. However, these phones are still early iterations of a generation that may be catalyzed by Samsung’s release of their bendable phone at the end of 2019. LG and other phone companies may soon put a tablet in our pocket. After the explosive increase in a phone's screen size in the past five years, the next move is to reduce the the size of the phone in our pocket. Even the Apple-junkie may have a bendable iPhone in their pocket soon. Only time will tell whether or not this technology is viable.
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