My obsession with making phones do things phones "weren't meant to do" started in my teens, when I showed all of my friends how to load full lenth movies onto their internal storage in class. I was always the phone nerd, I knew what phones everyone in TV shows and movies were using, and a few of my friends threatened to stop watching things with me if I didn't stop pointing them out. Did you know there was a period of time on the CW where all of the villans in every show had an iPhone, and all of the main charcters had Android phones? Yeah, I notice weird shit like that.
And if I'm honest, that's probably why I'm so excited about foldable phones. Things are about to get weird in the phone world, and that means bland slabs of glass are not going to be enough to grab my attention.
If it wasn't clear from the bit in the paragraph above this one, I'm not really talking to the general consumer with this editorial. I am rarely excited by the phone that is the most popular, and not because I think of myself as some agent of couterculture or something. The things I value in a phone aren't usually the things most folks look for, and that's a good thing. There should always be an affordable, reliable, consistently good experience for me to recommend to my friends and family who need something that will be a good pocket computer for a couple of years and need very little maintenance. These are great phones, they're just not particularly exciting.
Foldable phones, at least the ones we've seen so far, do an amazing job addressing niches. I've seen people use a Galaxy Fold and a small keyboard for all of their work instead of needing to toss a Chromebook into a bag. The Galaxy Z Flip is a multitasking powerhouse, due entirely to its unique design and the software accompanying it. The Moto Razr... exists. They aren't all winners. The point is these are not phones I would recommend to my younger sister, who really only uses her phone for Instagram and texting and a few other simple things. But for me, these phones explore a more meaningful way to be entirely mobile and that is genuinely exciting.
Folding phones might just be an experiment, but I haven't felt the urge to bust out a credit card like this in a long time and that's not nothing.
It's not just the mechanics of the phone folding that excites me, either. this technology is going to enable a lot of clever things in the not-so-distant future. Vehicle dashboards that unfold when you're parked to give you a bigger screen to work with, or better curved displays in smaller personal gadgets. These displays will open the door to a lot of new opportunities, as well as make the concept of a secondary display on a phone seem more standard.
While all of this is happening in the public, there's still a regulatory body trying to figure out the best way to make a standard for storing your driver's license electronically. It's entirely possible that a low power secondary display which can store the barcode from your ID and display it even when the phone is dead becomes a part of that standard because of the breakthroughs being made in this space right now. There are so many opporunities for this stepping stone of a phone folding in half to become something bigger.
There may come a point where folding phones become mainstream, the Z Flip is certainly turning heads in unexpected places across the internet right now. These phones may also be dubbed unneccesary and join pop-up front-facing cameras and Tango sensors in the heap of tech that time forgets. And honestly, I'm okay with that too. Every couple of years manufacturers put their experiments in the public eye, and we get delightful little bits of weirdness like a phone with no ports at all or a phone with a second e-ink display on the back.
Folding phones might just be an experiment, and not every manufacturer seems to really know what to do with these things just yet, but I haven't felt the urge to bust out a credit card like this in a long time and that's not nothing.
Finally foldable functionality
At long last, a phone that fits in women's pockets.
The Galaxy Z Flip takes a modern smartphone shape and lets you fold it in half. It's expensive to be sure, and you'll still feel the crease, but this is the first foldable to actually feel like an actual complete product and not a beta test.
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