Huawei may have delayed the launch of its Mate X foldable smartphone, but that doesn’t mean the company isn’t already thinking up more in the flexible OLED series, and according to a freshly-revealed design patent it’s also considering taking the opposite approach. The Huawei Mate X managed to outshine Samsung’s big Galaxy Fold announcement, taking Mobile World Congress 2019 by surprise several months ago.
While the Samsung foldable kept its surprise hidden, packaging the flexible display within its two clamshell halves, Huawei’s phone was bolder and more eye-catching. Its slender Mate X folded out, the OLED panel wrapping around the outside of the device instead.
It was a solution with a number of advantages, and not just aesthetic ones. By putting the primary display outside, for example, Huawei didn’t need to follow Samsung’s route and have a secondary screen that would be visible when the smartphone was closed. It meant Huawei’s phone could be thinner and less complex.
The downside, of course, was the potential for damage. Foldable OLED panels are still using plastic screens: they’re fairly resilient, but nowhere near as tough as the glass-covered OLED we’re familiar with from regular smartphones. As the fairly dire reports from early access to the Galaxy Fold made clear, that plastic could easily pick up scuffs, scrapes, and scratches, even when it was sandwiched on the inside.
Just how readily damaged the Mate X’s display might be, exposed on the outside of the phone, was a real concern. Then, of course, Samsung had its embarrassing series of Galaxy Fold breakages, resulting in the public release of the device being postponed. For a moment it seemed Huawei would beat it to the market, but then the Mate X was delayed too, a move widely seen as being related both to the foldable screen and the Chinese firm’s ongoing Android saga with the US government’s trade blacklist.
While the lawyers hammer that out, however, Huawei’s designers have been busy with a second Mate X design. Spotted in the WIPO database by LetsGoDigital, a filing shows a foldable phone in which the larger, primary screen is kept safely inside the clamshell mechanism, rather than being left exposed on the outside. A second display is mounted on the exterior of the device, flat, so it could presumably be protected by toughened glass.
A section running along the edge of the design contains the camera, with the nature of the hinged portion allowing for a consistent thickness when the smartphone is closed. Unlike the relatively crisp edges of the Mate X as we’ve seen it, this second design has more curved sides.
As with any design filing of this sort, there’s no guarantee that it will amount to anything more than just a registered possibility. Nonetheless, it’s fair to assume that Huawei is looking at all potential ideas for the form-factor which – though delayed by Samsung’s misfortune – looks unlikely to disappear in the longer-term. Whether foldable screen technology will mature before Huawei’s ongoing woes with Android access do, however, remains to be seen.