At first thought, a 'fold open' screen for a mobile phone does seem 'obviously better'. Every one of us has been in that situation at some point, with some picture, video, website, game or other content, when we felt "I wish the screen was bigger". And I've been on this blog telling that 'Screen Size Trumps Everything'. We've seen the reversal from the trend of mobile phone handset devices getting ever smaller (from 1980s to 2007) and the opposite, via first the original iPhone, and then subsequent ever-larger screens which have brought us the massive phablet screen sizes that barely fit into any pocket or hand. By the two most important measures of the three measures of physical size (Height x Width x Thickness = Volume) and I mean height and width (not thickness) the modern largest phablet phones are larger than most commercial mobile phones of the mid 1990s.... Only by the thickness aspect, are we currently ahead of the phones from two decades ago. yeah, thats 'progress' for you.
So when someone says 'how about a folding screen on a mobile phone' - folding like a magazine, to give us a larger screen - that does sound like a brilliant idea. That oh yes, please, lets not try to make our current oversized phones even larger, what if we had a smaller phone, and just offered it with a folding screen in some way, that gets us the larger screen size, but in a far-smaller handset overall (while then, very likely, somewhat thicker, bulkier, to allow for two layers of the screen element, when folded into our pockets).
Well, we're probably gonna see it soon. Samsung has been teasing developments into that direction and now it does start to look, like we may see the first flagship phone by any major brand, that has a folding screen that folds in half when in the pocket, and opens up to twice-size when opened up for any screen work. It may be somewhat like an old Motorola flip-phone (flipping upwards) but its more likely to be like a 'palmtop' such as a Nokia Communicator, opening sideways. Like a book. It may end up having an extra screen, smaller, to use when it is 'closed' like later editions various flip phones and folding phones like Communicators. So you don't have to open the folding screen to use it.
COMMUNITIES DOMINATE ORIGAMI
And that has me thinking (oh-oh...). Will it really be any good? I don't mean mechanically (will it be durable, will the seam between the two sides of the fold, be visible..). I mean for the CONSUMER. What good would a folding screen really be?
And first off, you might say, duh, Tomi. It is TWICE the size of the screen! As long as the phone doesn't cost twice as much, of 'course' it will be better. It will be twice as good. Didn't you say that screen size trumps everything?
Yes, I did say that. But we have a nagging warning from the recent past: the hapless Blackberry Priv and its square screen. No matter how you turned it, horizontal or vertical, you could not get more to see in a movie, video, photograph. Unless that picture was taken with some ancient square-film camera, you only lost and never gained with the square screen. So aspect ratio plays a big role in our display. So old style TV images were 4.3 aspect ratio but most modern flat screen TVs are in 16:9 aspect ratio (Wider). And movies often are in 'widescreen' which can be as wide as 2.2 to 1 aspect ratio. And recently we've started to see wide-screen smartphones in the rough mid-point between those, using an 18:9 aspect ratio.
BABY YOU'RE SO SQUARE
So what does this do to our viewing pleasure? Lets stay with the most standard screen size today, 16:9. And lets flip our screen. Here the blue screen is any regular smartphone in portrait mode, and the yellow part is the same screen turned sideways to horizontal orientation for landscape images, videos & movies:
Now, lets try a twin-screen out of the same phone. So it is standing up, portrait, identical size to the above, and is a 16:9 aspect ratio screen. Then we open it up 'like a book' (or magazine) and we get two screens, side-by-side. But what happens when we view something on it? What? A standard video clip on YouTube or the picture we just received about our nephew? If we now use the double-screen to view any content that is formated for 16:9 aspect ratio video, and we view it on the double-screen, we get this yellow image. I have superimposed on the same image, what would be the SAME screen, in single-screen size, but flipped sideways to landscape mode....
Note the gain is truly modest. The light green image sideways is not twice as big as the blue screen sideways. It is only 26% larger in area, and only 13% wider. It is yes, visibly bigger, but only just. Barely so. Is this worth a ton of money? I kind of doubt it. The concept might not be worth the extra money and it could be a huge waste of effort. Because most people who could afford a premium Samsung folding-screen smartphone, would also own other phones and definitely have friends with similar phone screen sizes (unfolding phones) and the comparison would be too easy to make. How much more are you gaining from this? Not really that much, considering the folding screen IS twice as big (costs at theoretically twice as much in pixels, but probably even more, due to the folding tech, and while the whole phone won't need to be twice as expensive, this would definitely mean a more expensive phone...).
That is with a 'normal screen' phone, at the 16:9 aspect ratio. What happens if we do the new wider 18:9 aspect ratio? Now there is literally no gain (in terms of width of image, vs flipping the same phone screen side-ways). Then the image looks like this:
Yeah maybe LG was playing some offense in its defense against Samsung, when they introduced the 18x9 aspect ratio screen size haha... Ok. How DO we gain from the folding screen? Would you believe it, the best gains come if we go down to old-fashioned screen formats, like 4x3 of old TV. Here we DO get a benefit, especially if we are viewing 16:9 type of content (which was already poorly fitting to the orig 4:3 screen). If Samsung went 'back' to this type of screen format, then the GAINS would be big from doubling the screen...
(Note that I now added a new color, red, to illustrate the 16:9 format image on the single-pane 4:3 screen, turned sideways for landscape viewing.) But the OTHER issues with phones would then come into play - in other words, we'd get wide phones that don't fit in our pockets (as modern phones have screens that go very near to the edge of the phone. What could we then do? If you want DRAMATIC increase in a folding screen, then you'd really need to go to 3-way folder with 16:9 aspect ratio. THIS is what would be an impressive folding screen:
But that would then bring us tons of new problems such as... the second fold. Its not like folding paper (yet, haha Communities Dominate Origami)
I don't want to sound like a wet blanket, and I DO DO DO so hope for innovations and new form factors for our phones... but the folding screen? Gosh, it does seem like awefully lot of trouble for a truly modest gain. It might turn out not quite the miracle breakthrough that we had hoped..