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Royole beats bigger names to launch bendable phone
November 5, 2018, 1:33 pm
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Samsung is poised to launch one next week, LG is looking to launch its model in January, Huawei has been promising one for over a year, and Apple is probably waiting on the sidelines to determine the success or failure of the technology before coming up with a copyright claim.

But before anyone could launch one, a little-known California-based company named Royole Corporation has launched the world’s first smartphone with a bendable screen.

Royole, a six-year-old company specialized in making flexible displays but literally unheard of as a smartphone manufacturer unveiled its bendable screen handset labeled ‘FlexPai’ at an event in Beijing on 31 October.

The launch caught industry watchers and analysts by surprise. In an era when near-weekly specs updates and prototype images of yet to be launched phones is the norm, it is quite a wonder that news on the debut of the world’s first bendable screen phone never leaked in the media.

When opened, the device presents a single display measuring 19.8cm (7.8 inches), but when folded up it will present three separate smaller screens — on the front, rear and spine of the device, which will be used to show notifications. The handset is powered by Water OS, a variant of Android.

Internally, the device features a Snapdragon 8-series chipset, and will come equipped with 6GB of RAM and will be priced at $1,290 to $1,863 depending on the memory and storage specifications. The device weighs a hefty 320g, which is more than 50 percent the weight of svelte offerings from other vendors.

The company said the phone had been tested to withstand more than 200,000 open-and-shut motions, implying that it could offer many years of use before the screen begins to deteriorate. Pre-orders for the phones opened on 31 October and the company said it would hold three “flash sales” to consumers in China on 1 November, with plans to ship orders by December.

Samsung was expected to preview its bendable screen phone at an event in San Francisco on 7 November, but is not understood to be ready to put a product on sale. Meanwhile, it has been reported that LG intends to unveil a foldable screen phone at the CES trade show in January of next year.

Back-handed compliments flowed in from the so-called experts. "Royole gets the bragging rights to being first, and it's quite astonishing that someone you've never heard of is doing this," said Carolina Milanesi, from the Creative Strategies consultancy. Another company-watcher opined that the smartphone was unlikely to become a bestseller but was impressive nonetheless.

Dr. Guillaume Chansin from Irimitech Consulting added that he doubted the FlexPai would ever be produced in large numbers. “Royole has carried out several publicity stunts over the years to showcase its flexible OLED [organic light-emitting diode] displays. The FlexPai is probably another stunt."

However, it is doubtful if Royole, which has earned a name for its own flexible sensors and displays, was trying to out-beat other smartphone vendors by launching FlexPai first, or intends to produce them in bulk. Though it has promised a December delivery date for consumers, the whole point of the launch it appears is to get the device into the hands of developers.

Royole has said it would also offer a slightly different version of the devices to developers across the world on the same day in December. By putting this device into the hands of developers, the company hopes to enable developers to do the groundwork on how to take advantage of double-sized screens and result in developing apps for flexible devices.

The successful production of future foldable screens by Samsung and others would then create more demand for Royole’s own flexible sensors and displays, and probably make the company an acquisition target for one of the mainstream brands. Royole is already building its first OLED factory and is now trying to compete directly with other display manufacturers such as Samsung and LG.

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