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Samsung's Foldable, Flexible Smartphone Outed?

Samsung has unwittingly dropped another hint that a big smartphone design update could be in the works.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) last week published a Samsung patent describing an "electronic device including flexible display." While a flexible display isn't all that groundbreaking, considering Samsung and others already offer such an option, this one takes a different tack than other curved-screen handsets.

Samsung's flexible device patent could result in a foldable phone. Credit: USPTO

(Image credit: Samsung's flexible device patent could result in a foldable phone. Credit: USPTO)

Discovered by Sammobile, the handset described in the patent will bend in the center, thanks to a hinge. The feature means you'll be able to hold it open and see the entire screen or fold it at the hinge and close the handset. The patent essentially describes a flip phone, but a new-age version that is all display on the inside and delivers touch functionality.

Of course, this isn't the first time we've heard of Samsung's apparent plans to offer a foldable smartphone. In 2015, for instance, a rumor surfaced on Chinese site Weibo that said Samsung was considering offering two variations of a folding smartphone. At that time, it was speculated that the handsets would be available sometime in early 2016.

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Last year, another report said Samsung was working on a foldable device after the company was awarded a patent that included 3D renderings of what the handset might look like. In that report, the device looked like a standard smartphone when unfolded, but doubled over itself when folded, creating a flip-phone-like experience.

Samsung's foldable phone concept. Credit: Samsung

(Image credit: Samsung's foldable phone concept. Credit: Samsung)

The report followed several others that said Samsung has a pair of phones in development with bendable screens. While the company was reportedly planning to announce them at Mobile World Congress later this month, now it's believed to have pushed back the announcement until after the Galaxy S8 reaches store shelves in April.

It's possible that at least one of those devices could fold all the way out to 8 inches and act as a tablet in addition to a smartphone.

Whatever the case, the latest Samsung patent suggests the company is indeed thinking seriously about a new smartphone design that doesn't stick to the traditional, rigid smartphone to which we've grown accustomed.