Forget just foldables, this brand is working on smartphone with 'rollable, retractable display'

Chinese OEM TCL has patented a phablet design that features a rollable display that can be extended and retracted

Foldable smartphones may be all the craze, but it's still too early to call the technology the future of smartphones. In fact, phones that come with foldable screens are still a niche category and only two major brands – Samsung and Huawei – have launched commercially available models in the form of the Galaxy Fold and Mate X. However, the two tech giants are already rumored to be launching the successors of their respective foldable smartphones pretty soon.

The tech which is still in its infancy will, however, evolve in 2020 and more brands - the likes of Xiaomi, Oppo, Vivo, and even Google - are said to join the foldable smartphone bandwagon later this year. But there's another Chinese manufacturer seems to have come up with a pretty interesting alternative to foldable smartphones.

Samsung W20 5G foldable smartphone

TCL patents a 'phablet' with 'retractable screen'

TCL, is a brand that many would associate with televisions, but it does a pretty good job with smartphones as well. Last year, at the annual Mobile World Congress (MWC), the OEM showed off a prototype foldable smartphone, which hasn't yet made it to the production line, but now it seems that it may have an even more groundbreaking technology for this year's event. A new patent document reported by LetsGoDigital shows a flexible, roll-able screen that would allow the device in question to extend and retract its screen, thereby allowing it to have multiple display sizes.

The report claims the device as a phablet which has sliding components that interact to allow the display to extend sideways and retract in the opposite direction. This technology seems to be more beneficial than foldable smartphones, in that it allows the user to play with display sizes since the screen can be extended to varying sizes, although doing this may result in some strange aspect-ratios.

Retractable displays better than foldable displays

However, the concept seems to be quite interesting with many potential advantages and use-cases especially when playing games and multimedia content or working with files and documents on the device in question, since it allows the user to roll-out or extend the display according to his needs and roll it back or retract when he doesn't require the extra screen real-estate.

TCL retractable smartphone
LetsGoDigital's reprey sketch of the TCL device based on the patent LetsGoDigital

The patent which was discovered in the World Intellectual Property Officer's (WIPO) archives was filed on December 5, 2019 by Huizhou TCL Mobile Communication Co., LTD. It also suggests that the device could come with a quad camera setup at the rear. Strangely, though there doesn't seem to be any mention of a front-facing camera. Even the screen size is not mentioned, but that could be because the screen is adjustable to various different sizes.

Prototype could be ready by MWC 2020

A device which comes with a roll-able display that can be extended and retracted does seem quite intriguing and it doesn't seem impossible because we have already seen roll-able OLED TVs from LG which extend out from a table or even a ceiling and can be adjusted at various sizes. TCL seems to be implementing the same technology bin smartphones.

However, since the patent is from a very recent date and it may be a little too early to expect that a prototype model based on this patent will make it to CES 2020. But there's a possibility that it would be ready by the time for MWC 2020. So, we'll have to wait and watch.