The impossible dream of a rollable phone Le Devoir

The impossible dream of a rollable phone – Le Devoir

The best is the enemy of the good, they say. There will be horns all over the cabin of my dream car, Homer exclaimed in one of those iconic episodes of The Simpsons. Why can’t an entire tablet fit into a phone-sized device, Google asked earlier this week when it launched the all-new Pixel Fold.

Here the same idea is expressed in three different ways. Why make things easy when you can make them complicated, one might add. The Pixel Fold is a sleek 5.8-inch screen diagonal and 12mm thick. Just unfold it to get a small digital tablet with a 7.6-inch screen that’s more like 6mm thick, not counting the camera that pops out on the back.

An expensive idea – $1,799 for the Pixel Fold, or $2,400 CAD – and technically attractive that has yet to find its audience. You won’t find it in Canada, as Google will only sell the Pixel Fold in four countries: the US, UK, Germany and Japan.

Two pixels are better than one

Regardless of where sales of such devices succeed, however, it still hasn’t managed to sell a screen that unfolds like a sheet of paper. In fact, with the Pixel Fold, Google is entering a market for foldable-screen phones that’s already represented in North America by Samsung and Lenovo-Motorola, and elsewhere in the world by Chinese manufacturers like Huawei.

In order to stand out, Google boasts about the reduced size of its newcomer. Its camera is best integrated into this type of phone-tablet hybrid, the Mountain View company adds. And because the Android system has so far performed very poorly on a tablet screen, Google is adding interface elements that make the Pixel Fold more pleasant to use in widescreen: a small pop-up menu at the bottom of the screen, a multitasking mode with the option to change elements drag-and-drop from one app to another, and the ability to use it with the screen semi-folded to place on a table or desk.

Being the main developer of the Android system, Google also takes the liberty of suddenly launching the update of at least fifty applications that are among the most requested by its customers, to ensure that they all use the pixels that make up the larger of the Pixel Fold consists of two displays.

The same applications are also said to look good on the screen of the all-new Pixel Tablet, a digital tablet promised by Google since last winter that goes on sale this month. This one features an 11-inch screen, flawless mechanics and a magnetic base, making it a very versatile countertop photo frame.

Google sells the Pixel tablet for $700 with a stand included. With the Pixel 7a, the American giant also presented a smartphone with a slightly cheaper 6.1-inch screen. This summarizes the components of the Pixel 7, including the latest processor developed in-house at Google called the Tensor G2, and most of its features in a slightly more modest format. Retail price is $600.

Anyone who’s done the math knows that buying a Pixel 7a and a Pixel tablet will cost you, at most, $1,300. Keep in mind that where marketed by Google, the Pixel Fold will cost $2,400.

It’s unclear what Homer Simpson would say about this business strategy.

From Xerox to Google

The desire to create phones with larger than life screens is not new. In the early 2010s, the Philips company presented the prototype of such a phone, which made an impression. By pulling the corner of the display, it unrolled and unfolded, much like taking parchment paper out of a box.

It goes without saying that the device never really saw the light of day.

But like so much in the consumer electronics industry, the concept of the foldable, rollable, or at least malleable display was born in Xerox’s labs at a time when the company was pioneering the kind.

We owe several notorious inventions to his research center in Palo Alto, California, then nicknamed Xerox PARC. Most of them take us back to the birth of personal computing somewhere between the 1960s and 1980s. The personal computer with a mouse-driven graphical interface that spawned the first Mac and then the Windows system is probably the most infamous of the lot. PARC also gave birth to the laser printer and the Ethernet protocol, the famous network cable that is still needed today to build local computer networks or to connect to the Internet.

In 1974, a Xerox PARC employee developed the first flexible screen, which was quickly dubbed electronic paper. But this technology could never be mass-produced. Rather, it’s a not-so-flexible monochrome screen that was later derived from it by researchers at MIT in suburban Boston.

This screen was the birth of the e-ink display technology found in e-book readers today. Reader no more foldable than the others…

To see in the video