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Curved screen smartphones could catch on, if Apple embraces them

Column Consumers will see Samsung's Galaxy Round as just another flash in the pan
Fri Nov 29 2013, 16:15
Lee Bell column portrait

THIS WEEK we saw disappointing sales of the "world's first" curved screen smartphone, Samsung's Galaxy Round, and to be honest, it doesn't come as much of a shock.

If Samsung's apparent attempt at gaining publicity with the tagline, "the first curved display" wasn't enough to make me think the whole concept isn't a complete and utter gimmick, then the leaked Galaxy Round sales figures of under 10,000 over a month after launch definitely was.

The Samsung Galaxy Round, as the name suggests, features a curved OLED screen measuring 5.7in with HD 1080p resolution. Samsung did fill the phone with features to take advantage of the screen's curvature, including a software feature called Roll Effect, which lets you tilt the handset when it is placed flat on a surface to view things like the time, missed calls and battery level. But I find it difficult to believe that Samsung built the phone to benefit its customers or innovate to move the smartphone industry forward.

The launch seemed like just an attempt for the firm to steal a march on LG, which just days later announced its first curved screen smartphone, the G Flex, or be "the first" irrespective of what it is the firm's trying to achieve. Because Samsung likes to do everything before everyone else, and launch a raft of new phones every few months, the consumer can often be left confused and uninterested.

Don't get me wrong. There are in fact some benefits to a curved display on smartphones. The small curvature is the key to a series of optical effects that mean light is reflected away from your eyes, thus reducing glare. This is said to improve the readability of the display.

Also, the Samsung Galaxy Round is only available in South Korea so far. The UK has yet to see a release date. As a result, it has had a very limited market, so it doesn't truly reflect how popular curved screens could become.

I do see a point to curved displays. But the innovation shouldn't be left to Samsung to claim as its own and then ram down everyone's throats, or the technology will become wearisome and branded as a novelty before it has had chance to prove itself.

Yes, curved screens are an innovation in smartphone technology. But branding it under the "world's first" doesn't necessarily mean the world will want it. Calling it the "first ever" might persuade some consumers that they want a piece of that Guinness world record action. But when the novelty wears off, it risks leaving another tried and failed attempt to change the world of technology.

Perhaps controversially, I think the only way curved screen smartphones will catch on is if Apple integrates the tech into its smartphone ecosystem as standard and not as an alternative to its flagship, like Samsung has with the Galaxy Round. Consumers trust Apple to provide a limited but reliable choice of handsets, unlike Samsung, which could be accused of drowning the market with devices.

There have been many rumours lately that the Cupertino firm is reportedly working on two curved smartphones for release next year. Bloomberg reported just this week that Apple is developing 4.7in and 5.5in smartphones that will feature curved displays and enhanced pressure sensitivity in addition to larger screens.

If true, and if Apple makes its next generation iPhones with curved screens, then and only then, due to its already strong hold on the market, might we see the acceptance of curved screens as the norm. µ


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