Samsung is aiming to launch a Note smartphone with a screen that folds next year, which would likely be the first available to feature such an innovation.
Koh Dong-jin, president of Samsung’s mobile business, said the company is setting its eyes on 2018 to release a smartphone using its bendable OLED screen technology, but he said there are several hurdles it has to overcome, leaving room to push back the release if those problems are not solved.
Koh said: “As the head of the business, I can say our current goal is next year. When we can overcome some problems for sure, we will launch the product.”
Analysts said mass-producing a foldable phone with top tech features and a thin body will take time. Koh did not elaborate what the problems facing consumerisation of the foldable screen technology were.
When Samsung will release its first foldable phone, previously dubbed the “Galaxy X”, has been a question in the market since Samsung first showcased a flexible display prototype called Youm in 2013. For at least the past two years, there have been rumours that Samsung is close to showing off its first folding smartphones.
South Korean rival LG gained patents for a foldable tablet and displayed a working concept device earlier this year that could fold to create a phone-shaped device or unfold to create a much larger tablet.
Chinese rival Lenovo showed off a similar 7.8in foldable tablet device, the Folio, which converts into a device with a 5.5in screen.
But neither LG nor Lenovo publicly stated a timeframe for a consumer release of a foldable product.
Samsung has used its bendable screen technology in a variety of smartphones and televisions to create curved displays displays for its Galaxy S and Galaxy Note devices and curved TVs. It also sold a large, 78in TV that could convert from curved to flat and back again by bending the screen at the edges.
For years the idea of a device that could be both a tablet and a smartphone, altering its form to serve the user best at different times, has been the holy grail of technology. While the screen technology has been in place to enable it for several years, at least in prototype form, longevity of the displays and the inflexibility of other necessary components has held the concept back from the market.
Analysts are sceptical the technology can be perfected in a short space of time, but science fiction, including the recent HBO series Westworld, has shown how well the concept could work should the technology be ironed out.