Samsung's curved smartphone: A big innovation or a novelty?

Is the Round's curved display significant technology or just a gimmick in a string of new Samsung products?

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Beyond the physical properties of the flexible display, Samsung has introduced software features that rely on the curved display. One is called Gravity Effect that lets a user tilt the device for viewing and another is Roll Effect for checking information such as date and time when the home screen is off.

It's unclear whether these new software features will become important to users or will get relegated to what some reviewers called superficial (and sometimes unreliable) add-ons like Smart Scroll, Smart Pause and Air Gesture that are part of the latest round of Samsung devices including the Galaxy S4 smartphone.

Samsung also touted the Galaxy Round's one-hand operation, which allows a user's controls to be moved to one side of the large curved screen for easier one-handed touches with a thumb. A multi-window feature also allows opening of more than one app on a single screen.

The Galaxy Round will also have other important hardware aside from the flexible display. There is a Qualcomm Quad Krait 2.3 GHz processor, the MSM 8974, along with 32 GB of storage and a microSD card slot for adding up to 64 GB. A large, 2,800 mAh battery is included.

A 13-megapixel rear camera is coupled with a 2-megapixel front camera. The phone will run over LTE networks and supports 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy. Samsung Knox enterprise security and management software is also supported.

The Galaxy Round weighs 5.4 ounces, and is indeed large, measuring 5.95 x 3.1 x 0.3 inches.

So given the Galaxy Round is now on the market, at least in South Korea, when might other Samsung flexible display prototypes appear? Will any be a sales success?

Some analysts believe a large, curved smartphone like the Galaxy Round will be easier to store in a pocket than a flat rectangular phone. "A segment of users will pay the premium for a phablet-styled smartphone that is more pocketable," said analyst Kevin Burden of Strategy Analytics.

But the success of the Round will also depend on its price. "There is a market for every device out there, some much smaller than others," Burden said. "Volume won't come until this technology is in devices at prices that users have come to expect to pay for a premium smartphone."

Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, said Samsung understands its markets well, and knows that luxury, high-priced devices sell well in Asian countries but can be greeted more skeptically in the U.S. "The round display is more of a gimmick at this point until Samsung can show a true use case that makes it necessary" for users, he said.

The possibilities for other flexible technologies are even more exciting, Gold said. Among products under development are flexible circuit boards and flexible batteries. If an entire device is made flexible, it's theoretically possible it could be wrapped around a wrist or an arm, or rolled up and placed a purse or a pocket, he said.

"The possibilities are to be discovered, but [flexible displays] could lead to some interesting innovations," Gold said.

Given past history, it's possible Samsung will have its bendable smartphone prototypes like those shown at CES ready for market sometime in 2014, although Samsung hasn't offered a timeline.

Flexible technologies might open new product categories that Samsung could use, such as curved window panes that double as touchscreens for Internet access. Or the curved displays could be used in car dashboards or in appliances that incorporate Web browser touchscreens.

However the flexible displays are used, maybe what Samsung is first trying to do is open up our imaginations with its Galaxy Round.

This article, Samsung's new Galaxy Round smartphone: a 'curved-Earth' approach to new products, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

See more by Matt Hamblen on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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