Perhaps the most exciting new development featured at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show is the introduction of foldable displays into a plethora of devices, which promises to revolutionize the way we interact with technology. 2019 saw the premiere of foldable screens in the form of the Samsung Galaxy Fold which, while far from a perfect device, demonstrated the potential that such a dynamic form factor has for expanding functionality in the consumer technology market. Though many of the devices with flexible displays presented at this year’s show are merely prototypes that illustrate a concept, they offer a glimpse into what may very well be the future of how we consume, create, and share digital content.
One of the more striking innovations on display this year is the use of folding screens in laptop-sized devices, bringing the full experience of the Windows computing environment to the new form factor. Intel showed off their Horseshoe Bend concept at the event, allowing reporters to test the device which unfolds to reveal a continuous 17-inch touchscreen display. The unique device can be used in a number of orientations; it can be held sideways, partially bent, to resemble a large book, or it can be positioned like a traditional laptop with the bottom half of the screen functioning as a virtual keyboard, or it can be unfolded completely for consuming content on a relatively large portable display.
Many of the major tech manufacturers are getting in on the foldable display trend. Lenovo introduced the ThinkPad X1 Fold which, unlike Intel’s prototype, will go on sale within the next several months. Though Lenovo’s device is similar in design and function to Intel’s prototype, it is significantly smaller with a 13.3-inch screen. Unlike the Horseshoe Bend concept, however, Lenovo also offers the “Bluetooth Mini Fold keyboard” accessory, which adds a wireless physical keyboard to the experience which can either sit on top of the lower half of the screen or in front of the device to take advantage of all of the available screen real estate. When folded, the device has a gap in between the two halves of the screen, which makes for a convenient storage location for the bespoke wireless keyboard accessory. Even more impressively, the device wirelessly charges the keyboard when it is stored in this way, reducing the headache of managing the batteries of multiple wireless accessories. In a nice touch, the device’s leather exterior causes it to resemble a traditional Moleskine notebook when folded. The premium look is befitting of the device’s premium price tag, as it will cost $2,499 when it releases later this year.
Dell, for their part, sought to emulate the functionality presented by a folding-screen laptop while relying on more traditional display technology in their Concept Ori and Concept Duet, two prototype devices which apparently draw inspiration from the Surface Neo and Surface Duo devices Microsoft announced last year. Like Microsoft’s devices, the Concept Duet features two screens connected by a 360-degree hinge which allows the device to be used in a number of different orientations. While Dell’s products appear to be less polished than the ones Microsoft showed off last year, the Concept Duet, if and when it releases in its final form, will likely offer a competitive experience to the Surface Duo at a reduced price. The Concept Ori, on the other hand, strongly resembles Lenovo’s Thinkpad X1 Fold with a folding display of its own, suggesting that manufacturers are thinking along similar lines when determining how best to incorporate the cutting-edge technology into their hardware offerings. If anything, the multitude of folding-screen devices shown at this year’s CES suggests that the future of consumer electronics will offer a plethora of competitive options for customers excited to take advantage of innovations made possible by cutting-edge flexible display technology.