A recent patent application filed by Google suggests the search giant is experimenting with foldable display technology, similar to the panels seen on the Huawei Mate X and Samsung Galaxy Fold. The filing, spotted by Patently Mobile, describes a method for constructing an OLED panel that can be bent repeatedly and used in a “modern computing device.”
What’s interesting here is that Google doesn’t produce any displays of its own, and isn’t the kind of company that manufacturers its own handsets. Like Apple with its iPhones, Google reportedly outsources manufacturing of the Pixel 3 to Foxconn, and both HTC and LG shared manufacturing duties on the Pixel 2 phones. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible for a product based on this patent to see the light of day, it’s just that in the event it does, it’ll probably be because Google licenced it out to a third-party rather than producing a foldable screen itself.
The patent goes on to imagine a possible folding device that could bend in two different places — a “Z-fold display” — without breaking, thanks to what sounds like a smaller number of layers required when building the screen of the device. We’re not display manufacturing experts, though.
It’s not clear whether Google would ever build such a thing or why we’d want a Z-fold, but the survivability of folding phones is definitely still an open question. Samsung’s Galaxy Fold is rated to survive “hundreds of thousands” of folds, while Gorilla Glass manufacturer Corning is developing a glass screen that can be folded and, it hopes, will be more durable than existing plastic solutions.
It’s important to mention that Google’s patent doesn’t even mention the word “phone” once. Instead it refers to how the display could be used by “modern computing devices.” That sounds to me like it’s talking about phones to us, but it could refer to tablets, or even laptops, assuming Google is still working on tablets and laptops anymore.
Google’s interest in foldable smartphones has so far focused on the software aspect of their design. It added support for foldable displays into Android last November, and also worked with Samsung to ensure that Android would work as the Galaxy Fold’s operating system. Clearly, foldable phones are important to the future of Android, and Google appears to be interested in both the hardware as well as the software.