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Foldable Android Smartphones: Where is it coming from?

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We live in a brave new world. Everyday seems like a pinnacle for innovation as new technology arises while the existing one, as groundbreaking as it may be during its glory days, gets obsolete. Foldable phones once dominated the market in the early 2000s before eventually going out of fashion. They featured a Clamshell design, had small screen on one side and a keypad on the other and were better known as “flip phones”.

Nowadays, the most common form factor for smartphones is a slate like design with a screen completely taking up one side. Over the years, this design has been refined and perfected; the screens have gotten bigger, the bezels shorter and the physical buttons completely eradicated.

We’ve been seeing this design for quite a while and were convinced this was going to stay until just a few days ago, Android Developers official Twitter page came up with this:

Android Developers is a page on Twitter that gives latest updates on Google Android for developers. In a tweet on November 7th, they announced a “new form factor coming next year” that would feature a foldable screen which would have a signature feature of “screen continuity”.

In a GIF below the tweet, they demonstrated what it meant. It showed a screen in folded portrait form that looked like a normal smartphone screen. But upon being unfolded, it turned into landscape and the contents on the screen seamlessly adapted to their new orientation.

We’ve been hearing rumors for quite a while now regarding Samsung developing and preparing to launch a foldable smartphone. But the credibility of those rumors was questionable considering they weren’t from a reliable source.

However, David Burke, Vice President Android’s Engineering Department said at the Android Dev Summit that he expects to see foldable devices from many Android manufacturers namely Samsung. He also added that Android and Samsung are working together to unveil a device in the early 2019, which we believe will feature a foldable screen.

Well if you think things were getting interesting, think again! On 9th November, Android Developers made another tweet calling out to all Android app developers to start preparing versions of their apps that will be optimized for foldable screen. They dropped a link to their blog and there, they have explained how the newer versions of the apps should use the foldable screens to their advantage. There were three notable features:

  1. Screen Continuity
Foldable phones - android-developers.googleblog.com
android-developers.googleblog.com

As mentioned before and demonstrated in the tweet, screen continuity will be one of the key features of foldable screen Android smartphones.The idea is that the app, upon folding and unfolding the screen, will automatically transition from one screen to another.

The app may go through a configuration change during this transition and it would be a good idea for developers to make sure their apps support runtime configuration change.

For testing purposes, different manufacturers, including Samsung, are expected to release folding screen emulators in the last quarter of 2018.

  1. Multi-Resume

Currently on Android, when we use multi-window, the app not in focus is in what’s known as an “OnPause” state. However, it was noticed by many users that some apps did not handle this OnPause state well. For example, a video playing would pause, or an instant message was not displayed when received. In Android P, the OnPause feature will be removed and manufacturers will be allowed to keep all apps resumed while using multi-window for the best possible experience.

Currently, there’s no way to test it out as there’s no device that allows disabling OnPause. But updates are expected by manufacturers that allow devices to do so.

  1. Multi-Display

This is where things get really interesting. This feature basically enables support for multiple displays on Android devices. Starting from devices running Android 8.0 (API level 26). If there are multiple displays connected and multi-window mode is being used, the user can move their activity from one display to another. Also, when an app launches an activity, it can also specify on which display it will run on.

It can be tested by going to the Settings>Developer options>Simulate secondary displays. It is to be noted that the additional displays are for output only and can’t register inputs.

For a while now, Apple has been considered revolutionary when it comes to design and new features, but this might be a game changer for Android. It’s Google’s chance to steal the limelight and possibly change the form factor of smartphones from the slate to foldable displays for the years to come. Foldable smartphones can open up a new dimension of possibilities of what a smartphone can do and how we can interact with it.

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