SAN FRANCISCO • Samsung Electronics has unveiled its much-anticipated foldable phone in San Francisco, urging Android developers to start writing apps for it.
The South Korean tech company needs to get the foldable phone right to reverse steep declines in profit for its mobile division and restore some of the cachet its brand has lost to Apple.
Foldable phones promise the screen of a small tablet in a pocket-sized device.
Mr Justin Denison, a senior vice-president of mobile product marketing, on Wednesday showed a prototype with a screen that he said measured 18.5cm diagonally.
Folded in two it looked like a thick phone, but the media and developers were not allowed to touch or see the device up close.
Mr Dave Burke, vice-president of engineering for Google’s Android software platform, told a Google conference in California that Samsung planned to introduce a new Android-based device early next year. “We expect to see foldable products from several Android manufacturers,” he said.
Google’s head of Android UX, Mr Glen Murphy, who was on stage with Samsung, said Google would work with developers to bring more features to the phone.
Samsung said it would be ready for mass production in the coming months.
Technalysis Research analyst Bob O’Donnell said that while the bendable screen provided a wow factor, shoppers may not like the thickness of the folded phone or its price tag. “They’ll have to prove that it’s more than just a gimmick,” said Mr O’Donnell.
“But it’s smart to open it up to developers early to do different types of experiences.”
Ms Maribel Lopez, an analyst at Lopez Research, said the product would likely be quite expensive in the near term. “We’re talking about brand new materials that have been made for this and also a new manufacturing process,” she said.
Samsung is among a few developers working on foldable phones.
China’s Huawei Technologies has said it is planning to launch a 5G smartphone with a foldable screen in mid-2019.
Samsung and Huawei have been beaten to the market, however, by Royole, a Chinese display making start-up, which last week unveiled a foldable Android phone with a 7.8 inch screen, priced from around US$1,300 (S$1,800). Royole said it would start filling orders late next month.
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