The evolution of smartphone screens

The evolution of smartphone screens

You wait decades for a folding smartphone, and then two come along at once.

Samsung debuted its Infinity Flex Display earlier this month, less than a week after Californian start-up Royole Corporation unveiled its FlexPai handset.

While Samsung’s design turns a tablet into a compact smartphone-sized object, Royole’s foldable hardware creates three screens across the front, rear and spine of each device.

Resembling a book more than a handset, the FlexPai demonstrates how far smartphone design has evolved in recent years.

After all, mobile phones haven’t always been so sophisticated…

The 1980s

The first handheld mobile phone was created by Motorola back in 1973, but it was the following decade before mobile phones rose to public prominence.

Their keypads were similar to the latest generation of house phones, with buttons replacing a dial, but no screen to speak of.

The 1990s

In 1992, Nokia launched the 1011 – the original mass-produced GSM phone.

It had a tiny monochrome screen capable of displaying a couple of short lines of alphanumeric symbols, which opened the door to concepts like SMS messaging.

The world’s first text message was sent in the UK that Christmas.

The following year, IBM’s Simon PDA provided a glimpse into the future with its touchscreen interface and icon-driven applications.

By 1996, screens were becoming the primary focus for design.

The Nokia 8110 (featured in The Matrix) had a sliding cover hiding its buttons, ensuring the screen took centre stage.

In 1997, the Siemens S10 pioneered colour screens – though it was admittedly only capable of displaying four colours.

However, it was downloadable content’s arrival in 1998 that ensured smartphone screens became central to hardware design.

The 2000s

Although Sharp launched a camera phone in Japan in 2000, it was another two years before the Nokia 6750 arrived in Europe and created another reason to demand a decent screen.

The Motorola Razr V3 had a colour screen on the outside of its flip casing, and the XDA Flame was the first handset whose screen dominated its overall dimensions.

In 2007, the iPhone heralded the modern age of capacitive smartphone screens, spelling the end for physical keyboards like those on BlackBerry devices.

When Nokia’s N85 adopted OLED technology the following year, a template was established that has endured ever since.

The 2010s

Although smartphone screens have remained largely unchanged for a decade, a number of significant innovations have still occurred.

This decade has seen screens expanding beyond five inches in size, while their surrounding bezels shrink back to almost nothing.

Industry firsts include a curved handset from LG, a 4K display courtesy of Sony, and Essential integrating a camera notch into its display so the bezel can be reduced even further.

Today, we may be standing on the cusp of a seismic change in smartphone design, with foldable screens effectively eliminating the boundaries between phones and tablets.

And to think it all started with two short rows of black-on-yellow text…

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