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Samsung has been dropping hints for weeks that it is ready to show off its rumored foldable smartphone. Yesterday, the South Korean company did just that. At its annual developer conference in San Francisco, Samsung showed off the prototype of a device that looks like a typical smartphone at first glance, but it opens up to reveal a display the size of a small tablet.
Making things even more interesting Alphabet's (NASDAQ: GOOGL ) Google announced it is including support for a new "Foldables" category in Android.
What does this development mean for Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL )? The company has defined smartphone design for the past decade. Sales of pricey iPhones have pushed AAPL stock to stratospheric levels. But Samsung could now be in a position to leapfrog Tim Cook & Co.
Samsung's Foldable Smartphone
We've heard rumors for quite some time, and Samsung had begun openly teasing about it in recent days. On Nov. 7, the company used its annual developer conference keynote to finally take the wraps off its foldable smartphone.
The lights were dim, and the device was covered in extra plastic to disguise its appearance. But there was no mistaking what the company was showing off.
What appeared to be a typical smartphone was opened up to reveal a display within that was the size of a small tablet screen. Not two displays joined by a hinge, but a single panel that bent seamlessly when closed. Samsung is calling that bendable panel the Infinity Flex Display, and says that it will go into mass production in a "matter of months."
The outside of the foldable smartphone has an independent display, so it can be used in the usual fashion. Open it up, and the user has access to that 7.3-inch Infinity Flex Display. For point of comparison, Apple's iPad Mini has a 7.9-inch display. Someone carrying the new Samsung smartphone truly would have both a phone and a tablet in their pocket.
Samsung says up to three apps will be able to run simultaneously, and that the Infinity Flex Display can be folded hundreds of thousands of times without damage. While the company didn't say specifically when it would release the foldable smartphone - which will likely end up being the Galaxy X - Google told attendees at its own conference that Samsung plans to introduce the new device early in 2019 .
Google Adds Android Support
Samsung and Google don't always see eye-to-eye. With the introduction of Google's Pixel phones, they have become rivals in the flagship Android smartphone market. However, sensing an opportunity to take a leadership position over Apple (and no doubt worried about the risk of further fragmentation without official support), yesterday Google announced support for the Samsung smartphone in Android. A new "Foldable" device category has been added , standardizing screen continuity for developers.
That's a good thing because, while Samsung has the spotlight, a California-based startup already unveiled its own foldable smartphone: the $1,300 Royole FlexPai .
Where Does This Leave Apple?
For years, Android smartphone manufacturers have followed Apple's design lead for smartphones. That's continued right up to the current generation and the adding of an iPhone X-like notch to their display - even in cases where a notch isn't actually required.
Being the leader that others follow has helped Apple to raise iPhone prices to levels other smartphone companies wouldn't dream of. And it's pushed Apple stock to the point where it is a trillion-dollar company.
What happens when Samsung releases a foldable smartphone? With Android support, public fascination and more smartphone manufacturers taking interest in the form factor, Apple could quickly be left behind. A foldable smartphone that doubles as a tablet has a definite a "cool" factor. It also has huge potential in markets like India, where income levels don't support owning multiple devices. Yes, Apple has filed for several patents this year related to folding phones, but that's a long way from actually designing one.
The company has already taken the unpopular step of announcing it will stop reporting iPhone sales numbers amid slowing demand. What happens if AAPL is caught scrambling to play catch-up to a wave of folding smartphones that make the iPhone look like yesterday's tech? Samsung is hoping to find out next year, with the release of the Galaxy X.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securitie s.
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