Folding smartphones haven’t even properly arrived and they’re already old hat, surpassed in desirability by a folding smartwatch from IBM that goes from having a single small screen to a mini tablet on your wrist. It’s unlike anything we’ve seen before. Sadly, it may also be unlike anything we’ll ever see at all, as not only is the watch just a concept in a patent; but IBM is addicted to filing them.
Let’s look more closely before crushing any dreams. The drawings in the patent, which have been turned into pretty concepts by LetsGoDigital.org, show a large smartwatch with a bezel-less screen on the front. The magic happens when the screen is unfolded first in a way that adds three additional screen panels of the same size to make a wearable with a display four times larger than it started out. Then, this same area is folded out again to double in size, giving eight times the original screen real estate.
The patent doesn’t describe exactly how this will work, but it indicates one way could be to use sliding screen panels stored almost like a deck of cards, which slide and fold out depending on how large you want the screen to be. It’s reminiscent of those space-saving tables suitable for small apartments, which cleverly unfold to seat a dinner party of six. However, making those dining tables is incredibly simple compared to engineering IBM’s crazy folding smartwatch.
Multiple screens could increase the usefulness of a smartwatch. The patent shows the single screen showing the time and a few buttons, while unfolded it adds additional apps and services with news feeds, social media streams, a web browser, a calendar, and plenty more. It’s the same concept as a folding smartphone — the convenience of a small device, matched with the desirability of a large screen when you need it.
Samsung has proven how difficult it is to make a folding smartphone already, with Huawei holding off releasing its own folding smartphone for a few more months too; so how likely is it that IBM’s watch will ever be built? Never say never; but at the moment the technology simply doesn’t exist to make it a reality. Additionally, IBM is obsessed with patents. On its website it proudly trumpets that it has led the U.S. in patent registration for 26 years, with 9,100 patents filed in 2018 alone. This means the odds are against the folding smartwatch seen here coming out anytime soon, even when the technology to make it actually exists.
Investment and research into folding smartphones and other folding devices does mean we may see something similar one day though.