This articulated wraparound phone -- known as the CPlus -- was a concept device Lenovo used to wow the crowd as part of a larger launch last June that included the modular Moto Z and Phab 2 Pro The CPlus may have only been a prototype, but it might as well have been a fireworks show for the imagination it ignited
As powerful as today's phones are, their rectangular reliability has become a boring necessity. And that's why handsets that bend, twist, snap and fold will electrify and energize the industry.
Flexing, folding handsets are visually and intellectually cool because rigid electronic pieces usually don't bend, at least not without a hinge.
In addition, devices like these "will be able to be produced like newsprint," said Roel Vertegaal, who directs the Human Media Lab at Canada's Queens University and works on prototype models. Producing some phone parts this way could eventually make the phones cheaper to build, he added.
Shapely devices that give you more of a shifting 3D work surface, also have the power to change how people carry and even use them, like navigating in new ways while playing a game, or using the way you bend a device to trigger an action.
Lenovo's pill-bug phone isn't the only one to stretch the boundaries of flexible devices. In fact, twistable phone prototypes are something we were seeing as far back as 2011. Samsung will reportedly release a phone that folds open into a tablet later in 2017, which would take the curved-screen Edge handsets to the next level, and LG Electronics is rumored to be supplying Apple, Google and Microsoft with flexible phone displays in 2018. Lenovo, too, is working on a tablet prototype that folds down to make a smaller overall package. The company briefly flashed it to journalists at the same time it showed off the wraparound CPlus.
EBut while research on flexible and foldable phones is heating up in corporate and private labs, don't expect to see them everywhere at once. Companies tend to go slowly and cautiously with radical new designs.
Take Samsung's first curved-screen phone, for example. The Galaxy Round was essentially a concept phone that never left South Korea, but its design morphed through several iterations to arrive at today's S7 Edge with its two curving sides. Xiaomi's nearly bezel-less Mi Mix is also another concept device whose technology will show up in other handsets down the line. It's likely that the first of these futuristic, flexible phones will:
• Cost a lot to make (and be therefore expensive to buy)
• Sell in small numbers
• Sell in one or two test markets to see how early buyers react
It's possible, too, that a new, more flexible design could affect the kind of hardware you can put into a device, say, a smaller battery than you can stick in a large, flat rectangle. It's also likely that rigid parts, like circuit boards, will have to use a different internal configuration, or be made to slightly bend as well.
So if bendable and flexible phones aren't guaranteed to be a smash hit, why would companies pour cash into R&D for phones that may not go mainstream for years, or even ever? The truth is, we can't always accurately predict which trends will catch on and which will go thud.
But there is a certain glory in innovating first, and there's a distinct market advantage for companies that have the most experience if and when flexible and bendable gadgets take off.
What excites me most, though, is that this type of innovation helps phone makers everywhere build on past discoveries to propel new ones. It is, after all, only through trial and error that the industry collectively figures out what works and what doesn't. It's the kind of development that will give us the next tech we can't live without, the same way that the passion to miniaturize a desktop computer brought about the smartphone tucked into your pocket right now.