Call it anything you want, just don't call it the taco phone.

Samsung recently revealed a clamshell phone at its developer conference, called a prototype folding phone, that uses the company's Infinity Flex Display. With one front screen and an inside screen that open to form a tablet, the design is either the most innovative concept in years that will change how we use mobile devices or a neat gimmick.

Here it is:

Back in 2003, when I was just starting out as a tech journalist, Nokia introduced the N-Gage smartphone, a device that worked as a smartphone for making calls and also as a pocket gaming device. It was a precursor to the phones we all use today, because it served multiple purposes. At the time, other than people calling it the "taco phone" because of its unique shape and wondering why anyone would ever use a phone for anything but phone calls, there was definitely a hint of things to come, a world where a phone is more than a phone.

The N-Gage does remind me of the Samsung prototype, which looks like an impressive device at first glance. One screen on the front is a 5-inch LCD (the older tech now used on the more affordable iPhone XR) and inside is a 7.3-inch flexible OLED display (now used on the high-end iPhone XS and the Google Pixel 3). The inside display looks square and a bit like a tablet, so it's perfect for productivity and less than ideal for widescreen movies.

From what I've read so far, people are thoroughly confused. One report seemed to praise the device but also wondered how Samsung will turn it into an actual product, which the tech giant said would come out in 2019. However, in the comments of the article, readers openly questioned the logic of having a gadget that folds open, wondered whether the device would last that long and what would happen if you dropped it, and made many other valid points.

It's a head-scratcher to me as well, but before I throw any stones, I'll be the first to admit this is a step in the right direction if only because at least Samsung is trying something different. It's not an incremental upgrade, a phone that's a little faster and has a slightly better display. It's totally different, and so was the Nokia N-Gage. It might flop (and flip), but that's part of what makes innovation so interesting. Innovation means risk.

I'm not sure I'd use a phone that is so bulky, doesn't last that long, and tries to be a phone and a tablet at the same time.

However, the real innovation here is that the screen folds at all. According to reports, the screen uses a new "composite polymer transparent material" that proves an OLED screen can bend (Samsung claims it will open and close 300,000 times without problems). I'd rather the tech giants try something new and fail than continue making slightly better devices. The reason? Incremental upgrades mean incremental increases in productivity.

Here's how that works.

Shinier, faster, smarter, smaller. It doesn't really matter what a gadget does these days, because most of them are already meeting our needs. The Samsung Galaxy hasn't changed significantly in years, and each new laptop is only a hair faster than the last model.

If that all sounds a bit depressing, I hear your pain. I'm hoping for devices that project a holographic image, or can read our minds or predict our behavior, but what's happening instead is that companies are making gadgets that do less, cost more ... and are less impressive. It's a failure to innovate, and it's not a positive trend in any way.

The Samsung foldable phone might be another N-Gage.

But at least it's something.

Published on: Nov 9, 2018