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Foldable pocket computers…

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The mobile phone industry tends to launch its new smartphones for the European market at the Mobile Congress trade-fair in Barcelona at the beginning of March.  It’s the normal hyped shindig but what you can expect to see this year will be the usual small iterative improvements such as thinner bezels, more screens that curve at the edges, and slightly faster microprocessors.  No company will have dared to make its smartphones much slimmer as everyone has learnt that too thin risks being a financial and branding disaster.  Samsung is still suffering from a heavy financial loss that is expected to reach over $5.3 billion, simply because it wanted to make the Note 7 slimmer than an iPhone.  Subsequently all of its production has been recalled and 2.5 million customers had to have their money refunded because it was found that the Note 7 could catch fire at any time.  Urgent and extensive analysis by a team of over 700 engineers who examined 20,000 Note 7 smartphones finally discovered the two faults that caused the battery to short circuit: its ironic that both faults were design tolerance issues caused by the attempt to make the phones too thin.  So it would seem that current designs have already reached the safe limit.  Given that smartphones are not going to get any thinner due to the battery safety issues, you will have to wait until 2018 to see some radically new smartphone designs. So where does that leave us?  As I’ve said before, smartphones are now highly capable pocket computers rather than just phones, and I don’t often use my small screen pocket computer (smartphone) for voice calls.  Like most people I mainly use it for running apps (small specialist programs), to do things like checking the weather, listening to Internet radio via a Bluetooth speaker, reading news and sometimes watching TV.  So which possible feature do you think would so radically improve our use of smartphones that even a shrewd old pragmatist like me will go for it as soon as the price drops a little?  Well, there are some really impressive high-end phones beginning to emerge onto the market at the end of this year, and if you are thinking of buying an expensive smartphone soon, you would be well advised to curb your impatience and wait.  It is only every 10 years or so that computing technology produces a really major breakthrough.  The smartphone revolution was kicked-off by the arrival of the first iPhone in 2007 and that happened due to the advent of low cost touch screens, powerful microprocessors than didn’t have heavy power requirements, and slimmer batteries that could power the device for a few hours before needing recharging.  All these different factors had to come together to make the creation of the iPhone possible. And now there’s another remarkable confluence of technology that has made it time for fold-out display screens to take a bow.  This revolution is enabled by ultra-thin, but incredibly tough, organic light emitting diode (OLED) screens that don’t require a backlight and are only just a tad thicker than a piece of typing paper.  This extraordinary material has made possible the production of a new range of smartphones that will transform no less into seven inch tablets.  These welcome newbies are described by Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella, as "the most ultimate mobile device."  Apple, Google, Samsung and LG, as well as Microsoft, are all busy developing these devices which will totally alter everyone’s perceptions about pocket computers – if we can afford one, of course, because they won’t be cheap.  These original devices are going to make today’s smartphones look decidedly un-smart, and their lucky owners will, for the first time, have a highly usable, as well as a powerful, computer in their pockets.  Notice I’ve only mentioned “fold-out” display screens and not “fold-in” ones - apparently fold-in specimens were tested on consumers and the overwhelming preference was for the fold-out designs.  As a result there’s been a veritable flock of very similar patent applications from Apple, Google, Samsung, LG and Microsoft.  This is due to the design limitations of working with the OLED material.  It appears that it will curve around an edge, but with certain constraints, hence all the patents show that the supporting structure of the phone that houses the battery and microprocessor folds in, whilst the display OLED material stretches around the outside folding-out. These fold-out display screens will remain as desirable premium products for some time as, at the moment, only two manufacturers have the capability of producing the screens with high enough yields – LG and Samsung.  LG appears to have been working on advanced OLED manufacture for several years and has the most advanced technology.  This company will be providing displays for Microsoft, Apple, and Google, so supply will be tight for the first year or so.  Samsung, who hope to catch up with LG in technology terms soon, will only be supplying their own fold-out smartphones.  So far, the Chinese seem to be a few years away from being able to produce fold-out products although Huawei has shown some prototype designs You can watch a concept video showing how a slide-out display could work on an iPhone, alternatively watch a corny Samsung video that shows flexible display screens in action.  I’m guessing that, like Microsoft’s Surface Phone with a larger display, most of these devices will not end up in retail stores until 2018 because that’s when LG is scheduled to ship the thin flexible screens in bulk to Microsoft.  What is certain is that over the next couple of years larger screens, flexible batteries, as well as more powerful microprocessors, will enable smartphones to transform into the really sophisticated “pocketable” computers that we have all have lusted after.  Indeed, the market research company, Strategy Analytics, is forecasting that by 2022 the foldable display market will reach 163 million units. I’ve always wanted a genuine pocket computer after I spotted the small and practical Psion 3 in 1994, although I never actually bought one.  But I did eventually get a Compaq Ipaq pocket computer which could fit into one’s pocket although one needed robust material and strong stitching as it was very heavy.  I also toyed with buying a Toshiba Libretto but this was much too large for any of the pockets I’ve possessed.  As I’ve said, the applications I use on the move mainly happen within a web browser so things like email, checking on a map, note-taking and reading newspaper articles would all be transformed by using a seven inch fold-out display.  No longer would I be squinting at tiny headlines that only show part of the text, or small pictures that reveal little detail.  These newer fold-out or pull-out displays will also make it easier to run and use much larger and more complex apps that will become indistinguishable from the more complex software programs that currently only run on a laptop or desktop computer.  Imagine using Google maps on a seven inch flexible screen, from a device you have just pulled out of your pocket.  Already half the online shopping in Britain takes place using our current small smartphone screens, so expect that to grow exponentially as more people get fold-out displays.  I expect fold-outs to become hugely popular because, despite their initially expensive cost, on Android or Apple the apps will need no modification as the software already caters for larger size tablet computers. This merger of smartphone and computer heralds a new category of computing.  And we can expect to see a full range of input methods for these new devices, so voice, touch, software keyboard and hardware magnetic clip-on keyboard will all be available.  It might just turn out that this novel technological development will create a new opportunity for Microsoft, as smartphones morph into highly capable computers which can also connect to a telephone network.  After all these new gizmos are more computer than phone and Windows is still the dominant computer operating system.  In the past Microsoft has struggled to produce a smartphone that could compete with Google’s Android and Apple’s iPhone.  To date Android has an 87.5% market share although Apple makes the most money because of its high profit margins.  Poor old Microsoft was forced out of the fast moving mobile phone business when it had to write off its investment in Nokia.  I wrote about the rise of Android at the expense of Microsoft four years ago, and Microsoft’s loss in the battle to connect a couple of years ago.  It could be that a flexible/foldable screen Microsoft Surface Phone, like the patent drawing shown on the slide, might be able to carve out a share of the lucrative market of smartphone-tablet computers.  After all the majority of us now use some form of tablet as our chief computer because a tablet can easily and conveniently handle our main activity which is accessing the Internet.  If the device we eventually use the most becomes a tiny but powerful portable computer with a large screen, then a full blown mature operating system will have an advantage.  But for Microsoft to be successful any Surface phone will need to be able to run Android apps within the Windows operating system.  Microsoft lost out when developers stopped producing apps for Windows, and consumers will want to continue to use their ever-improving Android apps.  As for Apple, unless the company keeps having issues with its operating system, hardware and cloud access, I don’t expect many iPhone addicts will migrate outside Apple’s walled garden. Meanwhile, we’ll all have to keep our eyes peeled for a quantum leap in television OLED screens which promise to be so light-weight that they can literally be stuck flat on a wall or will neatly and conveniently fold out from a thin strip of plastic and fasten in place.  65 inch OLED flexible TV screens will be coming out of the same LG factory that will produce the flexible screens for smartphones at Paju in South Korea.  But that is another story…   February 2017 
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The mobile phone industry tends to launch its new smartphones for the European market at the Mobile Congress trade-fair in Barcelona at the beginning of March.  It’s the normal hyped shindig but what you can expect to see this year will be the usual small iterative improvements such as thinner bezels, more screens that curve at the edges, and slightly faster microprocessors.  No company will have dared to make its smartphones much slimmer as everyone has learnt that too thin risks being a financial and branding disaster.  Samsung is still suffering from a heavy financial loss that is expected to reach over $5.3 billion, simply because it wanted to make the Note 7 slimmer than an iPhone.  Subsequently all of its production has been recalled and 2.5 million customers had to have their money refunded because it was found that the Note 7 could catch fire at any time.  Urgent and extensive analysis by a team of over 700 engineers who examined 20,000 Note 7 smartphones finally discovered the two faults that caused the battery to short circuit: its ironic that both faults were design tolerance issues caused by the attempt to make the phones too thin.  So it would seem that current designs have already reached the safe limit.  Given that smartphones are not going to get any thinner due to the battery safety issues, you will have to wait until 2018 to see some radically new smartphone designs. So where does that leave us?  As I’ve said before, smartphones are now highly capable pocket computers rather than just phones, and I don’t often use my small screen pocket computer (smartphone) for voice calls.  Like most people I mainly use it for running apps (small specialist programs), to do things like checking the weather, listening to Internet radio via a Bluetooth speaker, reading news and sometimes watching TV.  So which possible feature do you think would so radically improve our use of smartphones that even a shrewd old pragmatist like me will go for it as soon as the price drops a little?  Well, there are some really impressive high-end phones beginning to emerge onto the market at the end of this year, and if you are thinking of buying an expensive smartphone soon, you would be well advised to curb your impatience and wait.  It is only every 10 years or so that computing technology produces a really major breakthrough.  The smartphone revolution was kicked- off by the arrival of the first iPhone in 2007 and that happened due to the advent of low cost touch screens, powerful microprocessors than didn’t have heavy power requirements, and slimmer batteries that could power the device for a few hours before needing recharging.  All these different factors had to come together to make the creation of the iPhone possible. And now there’s another remarkable confluence of technology that has made it time for fold-out display screens to take a bow.  This revolution is enabled by ultra-thin, but incredibly tough, organic light emitting diode (OLED) screens that don’t require a backlight and are only just a tad thicker than a piece of typing paper.  This extraordinary material has made possible the production of a new range of smartphones that will transform no less into seven inch tablets.  These welcome newbies are described by Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella, as "the most ultimate mobile device."  Apple, Google, Samsung and LG, as well as Microsoft, are all busy developing these devices which will totally alter everyone’s perceptions about pocket computers – if we can afford one, of course, because they won’t be cheap.  These original devices are going to make today’s smartphones look decidedly un-smart, and their lucky owners will, for the first time, have a highly usable, as well as a powerful, computer in their pockets.  Notice I’ve only mentioned “fold-out” display screens and not “fold-in” ones - apparently fold-in specimens were tested on consumers and the overwhelming preference was for the fold-out designs.  As a result there’s been a veritable flock of very similar patent applications from Apple, Google, Samsung, LG and Microsoft.  This is due to the design limitations of working with the OLED material.  It appears that it will curve around an edge, but with certain constraints, hence all the patents show that the supporting structure of the phone that houses the battery and microprocessor folds in, whilst the display OLED material stretches around the outside folding-out. These fold-out display screens will remain as desirable premium products for some time as, at the moment, only two manufacturers have the capability of producing the screens with high enough yields – LG and Samsung.  LG appears to have been working on advanced OLED manufacture for several years and has the most advanced technology.  This company will be providing displays for Microsoft, Apple, and Google, so supply will be tight for the first year or so.  Samsung, who hope to catch up with LG in technology terms soon, will only be supplying their own fold-out smartphones.  So far, the Chinese seem to be a few years away from being able to produce fold-out products although Huawei has shown some prototype designs You can watch a concept video showing how a slide-out display could work on an iPhone, alternatively watch a corny Samsung video that shows flexible display screens in action.  I’m guessing that, like Microsoft’s Surface Phone with a larger display, most of these devices will not end up in retail stores until 2018 because that’s when LG is scheduled to ship the thin flexible screens in bulk to Microsoft.  What is certain is that over the next couple of years larger screens, flexible batteries, as well as more powerful microprocessors, will enable smartphones to transform into the really sophisticated “pocketable” computers that we have all have lusted after.  Indeed, the market research company, Strategy Analytics, is forecasting that by 2022 the foldable display market will reach 163 million units. I’ve always wanted a genuine pocket computer after I spotted the small and practical Psion 3 in 1994, although I never actually bought one.  But I did eventually get a Compaq Ipaq pocket computer which could fit into one’s pocket although one needed robust material and strong stitching as it was very heavy.  I also toyed with buying a Toshiba Libretto but this was much too large for any of the pockets I’ve possessed.  As I’ve said, the applications I use on the move mainly happen within a web browser so things like email, checking on a map, note-taking and reading newspaper articles would all be transformed by using a seven inch fold-out display.  No longer would I be squinting at tiny headlines that only show part of the text, or small pictures that reveal little detail.  These newer fold- out or pull-out displays will also make it easier to run and use much larger and more complex apps that will become indistinguishable from the more complex software programs that currently only run on a laptop or desktop computer.  Imagine using Google maps on a seven inch flexible screen, from a device you have just pulled out of your pocket.  Already half the online shopping in Britain takes place using our current small smartphone screens, so expect that to grow exponentially as more people get fold-out displays.  I expect fold- outs to become hugely popular because, despite their initially expensive cost, on Android or Apple the apps will need no modification as the software already caters for larger size tablet computers. This merger of smartphone and computer heralds a new category of computing.  And we can expect to see a full range of input methods for these new devices, so voice, touch, software keyboard and hardware magnetic clip-on keyboard will all be available.  It might just turn out that this novel technological development will create a new opportunity for Microsoft, as smartphones morph into highly capable computers which can also connect to a telephone network.  After all these new gizmos are more computer than phone and Windows is still the dominant computer operating system.  In the past Microsoft has struggled to produce a smartphone that could compete with Google’s Android and Apple’s iPhone.  To date Android has an 87.5% market share although Apple makes the most money because of its high profit margins.  Poor old Microsoft was forced out of the fast moving mobile phone business when it had to write off its investment in Nokia.  I wrote about the rise of Android at the expense of Microsoft four years ago, and Microsoft’s loss in the battle to connect a couple of years ago.  It could be that a flexible/foldable screen Microsoft Surface Phone, like the patent drawing shown on the slide, might be able to carve out a share of the lucrative market of smartphone-tablet computers.  After all the majority of us now use some form of tablet as our chief computer because a tablet can easily and conveniently handle our main activity which is accessing the Internet.  If the device we eventually use the most becomes a tiny but powerful portable computer with a large screen, then a full blown mature operating system will have an advantage.  But for Microsoft to be successful any Surface phone will need to be able to run Android apps within the Windows operating system.  Microsoft lost out when developers stopped producing apps for Windows, and consumers will want to continue to use their ever-improving Android apps.  As for Apple, unless the company keeps having issues with its operating system, hardware and cloud access, I don’t expect many iPhone addicts will migrate outside Apple’s walled garden. Meanwhile, we’ll all have to keep our eyes peeled for a quantum leap in television OLED screens which promise to be so light-weight that they can literally be stuck flat on a wall or will neatly and conveniently fold out from a thin strip of plastic and fasten in place.  65 inch OLED flexible TV screens will be coming out of the same LG factory that will produce the flexible screens for smartphones at Paju in South Korea.  But that is another story…   February 2017 
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Foldable pocket

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