Over the years, smartphone form factors have converged on the flat glass slab, but a new trend is emerging. Flexible OLED technology has progressed to the point where firms such as Samsung, Xiaomi, and Motorola are selling phones that can fold in half. We’ve also seen a few concept rollable phones, and Motorola now offers one as well. It just debuted the nameless rollable prototype at Lenovo Tech World, and it appears to be more developed than many of the other proofs-of-concept we’ve seen.
A flexible OLED panel wraps around the bottom of the phone in the rollable. When fully retracted, the device features a 5 inch screen on the front. When fully stretched, the entire panel rotates around to the front, revealing a 6.5-inch screen. Luca Rossi, President of Lenovo’s Intelligent Devices Group, demonstrates how the device uses an internal motor to slide the display, automatically responding to video content. It’s a fascinating demo, however the slider appears to be too slow to use on a daily basis.
Motorola, which is now a Lenovo company, says nothing about the device’s internals, just calling it a “premium smartphone.” However, Rossi claims that the device is more compact in its 5-inch shape than any other similarly equipped device. It would also be much easier to carry around in your pocket than a 6.5-inch smartphone that doesn’t shrink magically.
“A screen that adjunts to three distinct states” – Motorola
The short video doesn’t show where the screen travels when it rolls. TCL demonstrated a (non-functional) rollable prototype that spooled up the OLED inside the body a few years ago, but the Moto gadget appears to fold around the back. If the screen is exposed on the back, durability may be an issue, but it would also provide some fascinating user interface alternatives. You could, for example, use the back display as a camera viewfinder to capture selfies with the high-quality rear cameras. In fact, there are no visible front-facing cameras on the concept phone, so this may be the idea.
Lenovo also demonstrated a similar expandable screen in a laptop form factor, which became higher than it was wide from a conventional laptop ratio. However, we don’t know if this was just a render because we just watched a few seconds of film. Both gadgets are produced by Motorola’s 312 Labs, an internal division tasked with developing future technologies including as foldables, 5G, and others.
There’s no certainty that any of these rollable designs will ever be available for purchase. Motorola is now battling to make its foldables appealing. It released two Razr-branded flip-style foldables in short succession a few years ago, and it finally released the third one this year. It was, however, only available in China. Meanwhile, Samsung has surpassed Motorola by selling four generations of foldable phones worldwide.