There’s a reason why physical buttons have persisted on smartphones and most wearables over the years. Capacitive sensors work, but they’re not as intuitive or reliable as a regular button, especially on sporty wearables, when rain and sweat can interfere with use.
So you might think that a new patent suggesting that Samsung is planning to ditch the physical buttons on a foldable would be bad news. But actually upon inspecting the patent uncovered by LetsGoDigital, it makes perfect sense for the unique form factor of the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3.
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The advantage comes when the handset is in its closed state when the two sides of the device meet. This allows the two halves of each capacitive area to combine into a larger button, which certainly beats the current design where your thumb has to lock on to a button that’s half the thickness of the frame.
As well as allowing for thinner devices without smaller and smaller buttons, capacitive sensors also allow for different ways of controlling things. A volume rocker could be replaced with a volume slider, say, or squeezing the device could activate a specific function. While this would technically mean there are duplicate buttons on both sides of the device when in tablet mode, it would be pretty trivial for Samsung to disable one side or both when unfolded, making it a surprisingly versatile solution too.
Of course, the patent doesn’t say what handset it's destined for, if it ever gets used in a commercial device at all. The title of the 110-page patent is “foldable electronic device”, which covers an awful lot of Samsung’s upcoming output: not just the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Z Flip 3, but also a rumored folding tablet and something that opens like a scroll. The pictures certainly look like something from the Z Fold line, though, so if we don’t see it in the third generation, it might be something that appears in the fourth in 2022.
We’re expecting to see the Galaxy Z Fold 3 this summer, and stills from an official looking video seem to highlight the features Samsung will be keen to push including S Pen support and the company’s first underscreen selfie camera. One thing it’s unlikely to be is cheap, however, with the previous generations of Galaxy Z Fold emerging at $1,980 and $1,999 respectively.
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