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Published January 31, 2018

It’s long been rumoured that Microsoft is working on the next-generation of smartphones, by using cutting-edge OLED screen technology to create a foldable Surface Phone.  Indeed patent drawings have been seen online, and even renders of what this device might look like have been seen too.  Now though, smartphone giant Samsung have publicly revealed they are also committing to the foldable smartphone form-factor, as reported today by ZD Net.

Foldable phones offer the user experience of two screens and multiple usage methods, from tent-mode, where you can stand the phone upwards to watch video, to fully flat, effectively turning the phone into a larger tablet device.

Surface Phone concept, by designer David Breyer

This of course raises the question of where such devices would leave a full-keyboard PDA like the Gemini.  Back when Psion PDAs were popular, and selling by the hundreds of thousands, technology companies like Palm were already developing full-screen devices.  This ultimately lead to a drop in popularity for the full-keyboard PDA, the rise of the iPhone, and the smartphone boom.

It’s very clear though, with $1.3 million in Indiegogo backing raised by the time the Gemini went into production, that a full PDA form factor, with a proper keyboard is not only useful for some people, but essential.  It can be a massive boon to productivity, and many professionals who need to ‘get stuff done’ wherever they are, can benefit tremendously.

A rumoured patent design for the Microsoft Surface Phone

There’s also the argument that a foldable smartphone is effectively just a tablet.  Tablets have been declining in popularity significantly in the last few years, as plus-sized smartphones such as Samsung’s Galaxy Note devices, have brought larger and more usable screens to the marketplace.

While it would be very possible on a foldable smartphone to have one half propped open, as you would have a laptop screen, while you type on an on-screen keyboard on the other half, sat flat on your desk, it wouldn’t provide the tactile feedback of a proper keyboard.  In addition, prolonged usage could result in an increased chance of developing repetitive strain injury, the primary reason why flat keyboards have still not been deployed in hospitals, despite the benefits they bring in being more hygienic and easier to clean.

At the moment it is far too early to tell how such devices would affect sales and uptake of the Gemini, or Planet Computers.  It could be argued that the company is small, and agile enough to not need to sell products in huge quantities, or to make large profits on each one.  This is unlike companies such as Microsoft and Samsung who invest millions of dollars in device research, and who also have shareholders to pay.

However we still saw Psion squashed by the likes of Palm twenty years ago, and forced to withdraw from the PDA market due to the sheer popularity of handheld, screen-only devices that received more coverage, and had bigger marketing budgets than Psion could manage.

Whichever way the story turns out, the Gemini has a head start.  Foldable smartphones won’t begin appearing until at least the end of 2018, they will no doubt cost upwards of $1,000, and battery life will suffer greatly due to the dual screen design.  This gives Planet Computers a significant advantage, and one that will need to be capitalised on quickly.

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