Rollable, foldable, flexible phones and tablets aren’t going to catapult TCL into the number one smartphone spot any time soon, but that doesn’t mean the company’s ambitions aren’t that way inclined.
By Chris Davies
As it pulls back the curtain on just three of a whole portfolio of next-generation concepts, TCL is throwing down the gauntlet to jaded mobile mainstays… and it’s borrowing a familiar playbook to do it.
Foldables are “probably the main reason we do TCL smartphones,” general manager of global marketing Stefan Streit explained to me. Sure, the company has a handful of new, more traditionally-shaped Android phones in the TCL 10 series arriving on the market this year, including a 5G handset for under $500. What really excites TCL, though, is the potential for flexible displays to really show off its big advantage.
TCL isn’t just knocking on display manufacturer doors and begging for their screen scraps. The company has its own display business, in fact, making LCD and OLED panels. It uses them itself, in its TVs and phones, and it sells them to other companies to do the same.
If that all sounds quite familiar, you’re not wrong. Leveraging the strengths of vertical integration has been Samsung’s strategy over the past decade, as it rose through the ranks of cellular upstart through to one of the two dominant forces in mobile today. Samsung Electronics’ proximity to Samsung Display and Samsung Semiconductor has given it a privileged position to cherry-pick the latest and greatest in screens, memory, camera modules, chipsets, and more.
You might not be as familiar with the TCL name as you are with Samsung, but they’re definitely not small. As well as display panels it produces appliances, connected home products, and more. It’s the second largest TV manufacturer in the world, and the fastest-growing TV brand in the US.
The gap so far has been in mobile. It’s a market TCL is no stranger to, having been the company behind the resurgence of Alcatel, Palm, and –
bel phones for carriers. Now, it wants to attach its own name to its hardware. First with the rectangular slabs we’re familiar with, but eventually with a new breed of foldables that tap TCL’s display expertise.
“Do we need to rush to the market?” Streit asked, rhetorically. “Do we need to prove that we’re first? No.” That hasn’t stopped the experimentation, mind. TCL has revealed three prototypes so far – a fairly simple clamshell, a 10-inch tablet that folds down along two hinges, and a rollable phone that will motor out to make a mini-tablet – but apparently has around three dozen in total. More
TCL Foldable Phone$1,100.00