At last week’s Lenovo Tech World 2016 in San Francisco, Lenovo launched two major products: their Lenovo PHAB2 Pro and Lenovo Moto Z. While the PHAB2 Pro is the first phone built with Google Tango, the Moto Z is the first device to have externally hot swappable modules called Moto Mods. During their press conference announcing both devices, Lenovo also teased some next-generation prototypes based on flexible display technology. Obviously, a lot of people got very excited about this teaser, but little else was known about these devices. Thankfully, we had a chance to sit down with Lenovo and ask some questions about their CPlus and Folio prototype phone and tablet.
Lenovo had a session with analysts and press that broke down the idea behind these devices as well as showed them off to press and even let press try them out. This is the first time to my recollection that any flexible / bendable / foldable device has been actually shown to the press and analysts and actually allowed them to touch it and use it. What makes these two devices so unique is that they aren’t renders or videos, they are real products that actually work and are very likely something we could easily see within the next 5 years. In fact, during this session held by Lenovo CTO Peter Hortensius, he answered a question about when these devices could be expected in the market, and while he didn’t give any definite answers, he also said that such devices could be expected within 5 years.
The two prototype devices that Lenovo showed are the CPlus flexible smartphone / smartwatch and the Folio foldable tablet / smartphone. While hardware details were light on both devices, Lenovo made it clear that the mechanical design they had developed had been made in partnership with a major manufacturing partner and that the display technology was not their own but that from a partner, very likely LG Electronics, Samsung Electronics, Sharp or Toshiba. They also made it quite clear these were not actual products but more prototypes / concepts but these appear the closest to a final product that I have ever seen.
I took videos of each device so that you could see how they work. One of the most interesting things about both of the devices is that they don’t just physically to and from being a phone, but they also change user interfaces between modes. This is possibly the most important part of dealing with convertible devices because different form factors have different user interfaces that fit them best. Lenovo’s CPlus and Folio illustrated these changes in real time, and if you weren’t paying attention to it, you probably wouldn’t have even noticed it because the transition was so smooth.
The necessary UI changes is one of the aspects of convertible device design that many people seem to overlook. The future of PCs is already convertible between laptop and tablet for many users, partially driven by a saturation of the PC market and makers being driven to innovate. I suspect that as we see the smartphone and tablet markets become saturated that the next logical step will be convertible devices. Sure, we have seen many concepts in the past, but the reality is that many of them were technically impossible or financially infeasible. I believe that we are starting to get very close to making convertible tablets and smartphones a reality and that future battery and display technologies are the keys to making this happen. Imagine a future where your detachable tablet can also transform into a phablet-style smartphone, who wouldn’t like to have a device that can function as all three?