New products are traditionally developed in darkness – but rarely launched in darkness too. Samsung yesterday turned the auditorium lights way down before "revealing" its first Foldable Thing. This Foldable Thing was brandished in a Samsung executive's hand – some distance from spectators. And you couldn't get any nearer.
That wasn't the only unusual aspect of this event. Samsung's media team published an infographic about the idea of foldable screens, rather than images of the Foldable Thing itself.
Media and analysts weren't allowed anywhere near it, but could only gawp from a safe distance. In fact, this may or may not be a commercial product at all.
"There's a device inside here," said Justin Denison at Samsung's Developer Conference in San Francisco. Coy, or what? The paucity of information obliged the BBC to populate its report with more video clips of Samsung's 2013 concept demos than of 2018's Thing. It was a sort of un-unveiling.
The Thing is quite clever nonetheless. What was demonstrated was a 7.3-inch two-sided dual display flexible panel, with a central hinge. A smaller display, taking up half of the area of the "front" or "outside" of the device, works like a conventional smartphone panel. The larger main or "inside" panel can host up to three display areas.
Samsung said it has redesigned the UI to make it more convenient (One UI) and Google has promised to support this.
"A compact smartphone that unfolds to reveal a larger immersive display for multitasking and viewing content," said the Samsung blurb. And that's about it.
Meet Samsung’s “Infinity Flex Display”. This is as close as we’re getting for now.. The start of a journey for Samsung - will take time to get developers onboard and create the use cases #SDC18 pic.twitter.com/JCY0wNngG2— Geoff Blaber (@geoffblaber) November 7, 2018
So it's a phone that folds out into a tablet. Depending on how the flexibility compromises the quality of the display, and how smoothly it unfolds, Samsung hopes the convenience outweighs the inconvenience of carrying around two tablets. No more specific use cases were suggested.
This did little to dispel the idea that foldable displays are a solution looking for a problem – like so much else today. Somewhat fancifully, it's a new enterprise device category, according to one analyst, but it's hard to see how. Typing on flexible plastic is no one's idea of a good time.
Perhaps more will be revealed at Mobile World Congress at the end of February. But "why?" was a question Samsung didn't even begin to answer this week. ®