A California-based company called Royole has beaten giants Samsung and Huawei in creating the world’s first flexible display phone. The company unveiled its flexible display phone, the FlexPai, at an event in Beijing, China.
Royole, which was founded in 2012, specializes in manufacturing flexible displays. And with the unveiling of the FlexPai, it has taken on giants like Samsung and Huawei, which were widely speculated to be the first to release flexible display phones.
The FlexPai, when open, features a 7.8in or 19.8cm tablet-sized display. When folded, it features three separate displays, one at the front, one at the back and one at the spine.
Royole is holding three flash sales to Chinese consumers on November 1 as part of its first product run. A slightly modified version of the device is also being shipped to developers around the world on the same day. The company says it will start shipping to consumers worldwide in late December. The FlexPai was made available for pre-order on Oct 31. It will cost between $1290 to $1863, depending on the selected memory and storage configurations.
Here’s the unveiling video for the FlexPai from Royole:
The unveiling of Royole’s FlexPai has caught industry experts and watchers by surprise. There are currently several companies working on developing flexible display phones, that can be folded in half without a hinge in the middle. Samsung and Huawei are the favorites, and LG is planning on unveiling its own foldable display phone at the CES trade show in January.
Will the FlexPai be successful?
Industry and market experts have doubted the success of Royole’s FlexPai.
Maybe it's just me, maybe I'm wrong and already too old for all these upcoming new tech feats but I don't think I will ever buy this kind of foldable devices… (FYI: FlexPai phone available tomorrow starting $1291 w/ 6+128GB / Video source https://t.co/Vxpk0HUlMX) #DeadOnArrival pic.twitter.com/sHAbMFjldr
— Steve H. (@OnLeaks) October 31, 2018
One expert, Irimitech Consulting’s Guillaume Chansin, says that the FlexPai will never be produced in large numbers. He believes that this is nothing more that a publicity stunt to promote the company’s flexible OLED displays.:
“Royole has carried out several publicity stunts over the years to showcase its flexible OLED displays. The FlexPai is probably another stunt.”
Chansin further points out that Royole is building its first ever OLED factory. And that it is now trying to directly compete with the industry leaders such as LG and Samsung.
Another expert, Carolina Milanesi of Creative Strategies has a slightly positive view of Royole’s flexible display phone. She considers the FlexPai to be an impressive feat of engineering and it gives Royole the bragging rights to being first. Milanesi points out how impressive it is for a company you’ve never heard of to be doing this.
But even Milanesi doubts that this smartphone will be a bestseller. She believes that developers who will get a hand on the FlexPai will be able to “start the legwork” which will result in apps that will make the most of flexible devices eventually sold by bigger companies such as Samsung.
“You need developers to think through how they can best take advantage of screens that double in size.”
Milanesi believes that Royole will at best end up becoming an acquisition target. This means that one of the bigger players in the smartphone industry, such as Samsung, could eventually acquire it.
Samsung vs Huawei
Industry experts were expecting either Samsung or Huawei to be the first company to offer a flexible display phone. Huawei became the second-biggest smartphone seller in the world in July, putting the two companies head on.
Huawei’s chief executive Richard Yu spoke about this in an interview with a German newspaper in September. He had said that the company was planning on releasing a flexible display phone within a year. Analysts are still trying figure out the commercial appeal of foldable displays. Yu however seemed pretty sure about the company’s vision:
“Why are you still using a computer? Probably because you find a smartphone display too small. We will change that. It is conceivable that you could fold out a display.”
Samsung was expected to unveil its own flexible display smartphone at an event in San Francisco on November 7. But the company has now said that it is not ready not ready for this. Samsung’s head of mobile, DJ Koh, had spoken about this in an interview in September. He said that the company had nearly concluded the development of its much awaited flexible display phone. Koh had however added that Samsung would “need a clear purpose” before it would release this phone. He believed that the company would first need to define a clear use-case for the product:
“Even unfolded, what kind of benefit does that give compared to the tablet? If the unfolded experience is the same as the tablet, why would people buy it? Every device, every feature, every innovation should have a meaningful message to our end-customer.”
Ben Stanton from the market research firm Canalys has a similar feeling regarding the market potential of flexible display phones. Stanton thinks that the industry is indeed very close to having foldable phones as reality. He however believes that foldable phones will never be a commercial success. He thinks that companies are using foldable phones as a means to showcase their technological advancement without really considering the use case of such a device.