Ahead of iPhone X day, Samsung teases 2018 foldable phone launch plan

Apple is preparing to draw scores of eyes to Cupertino later today as it unboxes a clutch of new iPhones, including a new premium handset, called the iPhone Xslated to have a near bezel-less OLED display, a 3D face unlock feature and a $1,000+ price-tag, while bringing various new camera and feature tweaks — many of which have leaked in recent weeks.

Even so, the new iPhones are set to look like, well, iPhones — aka slabs of expensively shiny glass.

So what better time for rival Samsung to tease that it might finally be nearing the point of outing something rather different: A smartphone with a foldable screen — encouraging consumers who might be thinking of shelling out serious bucks for Apple’s new glass slabs to think twice.

Bloomberg reports that Koh Dong-jin, president of Samsung’s mobile business, has said the company is setting its sights on 2018 to release a smartphone with a bendable display.

“As the head of the business, I can say our current goal is next year,” he told reporters. “When we can overcome some problems for sure, we will launch the product.”

He was speaking at a press event in South Korea announcing the Galaxy Note 8 phablet to domestic media. The future foldable phone is intended to sit in the same Galaxy Note portfolio line-up, according to his comments.

Samsung has been teasing the fact it’s working on a bendable device for multiple years now — showing investors a range of folding prototypes in 2013, and teasing bendy screen concepts (branded Youm) at CES that year. Though its tests date back further still, while it’s been showing off concept videos of flexible devices for a similarly long time.

But while Samsung has been happy to scatter suggestive tidbits about its folding phone plans over the years, the date for a potential commercial release has never been firmed up. Instead possible release years have been mentioned then pushed further forward in time — apparently as it encountered new manufacturing complications.

So it’s fair to say that the latest claim — that 2018 might finally be the year of the folding phone  — should be taken with a large pinch of salt. Especially as the timing of the tease coincides with the most important date in the Apple calendar: iPhone X day.

And, well, let’s face it, concept smartphones don’t have a great record of ever seeing the light of day either.

Even if you assume Samsung has made some progress on its bendable prototypes, having worked on the concept for more than five years at this point, there’s no doubt that creating a screen robust enough to be opened and closed (and prodded) as much as 150 times+ a day by touchscreen-addicted humans is a huge challenge.

And after the flaming disaster of the Galaxy Note 7, which had to be recalled after some batteries caught fire, the risk-margin for Samsung on this potential release must be very tight indeed…

No one wants a folding phone if that means screen glitches and/or a handset that feels tacky and whose dimensions hark back to the heft of late 1990s mobile devices.

(For the record, Samsung’s folding phone has been rumored to be called the Galaxy X. So Apple’s choice of premium brand name for its top tier new iPhone is probably causing more than a little irritation in South Korea.)

We’re liveblogging Apple’s launch event here, and here’s details on how to watch the keynote. So stay tuned for all the news from Cupertino.

Bloomberg also reported Samsung’s Dong-jin saying it’s working with audio device maker Harman, which it acquired last year, to develop an artificial intelligence-enabled speaker for voice commanding to play music and conduct other tasks — aka an Amazon Echo inspired Apple HomePod clone in the making.