Foldable phones like Samsung’s Galaxy Fold and Huawei’s Mate X are coming, whether you’re ready or not.
In fact, they’re coming whether they’re ready or not. The software remains untested or nonexistent. The prices are either astronomical or unannounced. But those potential issues can be fixed on the fly. The real thing you should hold out for? Glass.
Yes, glass. The stuff that you tap when you use your smartphone, that you take for granted until you manage to shatter it on the sidewalk. Glass is strong and durable and hard to scratch and easy to see through to the bright and shiny OLED pixels below. Glass can even fold, probably further than you’d think. But it can’t flex far enough for smartphones that open up like books. At least, not yet.
“Glass today, the current choices out there, they’re not optimal” for folding smartphones, says John Bayne, who heads up glass giant Corning’s Gorilla Glass business. “In a glass solution, you’re really challenging the laws of physics, in that to get a very tight bend radius you want to go thinner and thinner, but you also have to be able to survive a drop event and resist damage.”
Instead, the early folding phone manufacturers are leaning on plastic polymers. Which makes sense in that the materials not only can bend as far as you’d need, they can do so repeatedly; Samsung claims its Infinity Flex Display can withstand hundreds of thousands of openings and closings.
“The polymer is better at flexibility; it’s easier to bend at the same thickness,” says John Mauro, a professor of materials science and engineering at Penn State University who had previously spent 18 years at Corning.
But plastic is also, as you may by now have guessed, worse at all kinds of things. It’s much less hard than glass, which makes it easier to scratch and ding up. And unlike glass, plastic will crease over time, leaving you with a large unfolding display, sure, but one bisected with an unsightly wrinkle. More