Xiaomi just convinced me I need a foldable phone

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Xiaomi foldable phone
It's pretty incredible.
Photo: Lin Bin/Xioami

“What’s the point of a foldable phone?” That’s the question the Cult of Mac team was asking when Samsung confirmed its first is coming this year. But after seeing Xiaomi’s impressive foldable phone prototype, I really, really want one.

Check out the teaser video below and try telling me it doesn’t look awesome.

Smartphone displays have gotten bigger and bigger over the years, to the point where an iPhone XS with a 5.8-inch display seems relatively small. But there’s only so big they can go before they become too unwieldy. No one wants to carry around a tablet.

But with a foldable phone like Xiaomi’s, you can have the best of both worlds — a compact smartphone that folds open to become a tablet.

See this Xiaomi tablet turn into a phone

In the 50-second teaser below, Xiaomi president and co-founder Lin Bin is seen using what looks like a small tablet. The device fits in his palm, but it’s probably too big to comfortably carry around in a pants pocket. That’s until Bin folds in both sides.

The device is the result of Xiaomi being able to overcome the technical challenges related to folding screens, hinges, flexible form factors, and adaptive user interfaces, Bin explains in an accompanying message on Weibo.

It has been carefully designed to work perfectly in both modes. The power button on the side of the device is easily accessible when it’s used as a tablet or a phone, and its software automatically switches to conform to the new dimensions of the display when it’s folded.

Xiaomi could be the first to market with a foldable phone

Samsung may have confirmed a 2019 launch for its first foldable phone, but Xiaomi hopes that it will be the first to offer a “dual-folding phone.” Possible names for the device are the Mi Dual Flex and the Mi MIX Flex, but Bin says Xiaomi is open to suggestions from fans.

Xiaomi’s handset is still in the prototyping phase for now, so it will be a while before you’re able to buy one, but the company will consider mass-producing it if the response from consumers is positive, Bin adds.

Xiaomi already has one customer right here. That’s if Apple doesn’t deliver a foldable iPhone first, of course.

Apple could be working on a foldable phone, too

Rumors surrounding a foldable iPhone go way back to 2015, when Apple was awarded patents for a flexible device. Fuel was added to the fire later when LG Display, one of Apple’s manufacturing partners, confirmed it was working on flexible screens for 2018.

Some reports have suggested that LG has dedicated teams building foldable displays specifically for Apple handsets. Sister company LG Innotex is also thought to be working on flexible printed circuit boards for a future iPhone.

It certainly looks like Samsung will be first to deliver a foldable phone, then — but it certainly won’t be the only one, and it may not have the most exciting product on offer, either.