TCL sounds like an unlikely name if you think of the world's leading smartphone makers. However, the brand has an interesting set of research projects going on with foldable smartphone designs. One of the lot, which TCL recently unveiled, shows a very interesting triple folding design. Similar yet different from a three-fold design patented previously by Xiaomi, the TCL triple folding phone can collapse into a normal smartphone's display size, and alternately, open up to become a 10-inch format. In essence, this might just have been the first proof of concept of the idea that foldable phones can transcend form factors to become a full-fledged tablet.
To make this happen, TCL uses two hinges on its device, held together by what looks like a robust metal frame. The metal hinges also look fairly sturdy, which they would need to be if it were to become a production smartphone. Interestingly, the presence of two hinges gives TCL even more flexibility with its device — for instance, users can fold it from one end to make it a small tablet (or a large phone, whichever way you have it) that can be propped up on the unfolded hinge. TCL also has a rollable display design with another smartphone concept that collapses, renders of which surfaced recently.
Right now, there are roadblocks for TCL to overcome. For instance, when folded, the device measures over an inch in thickness, and weighs far heavier than even the bulkiest of smartphones. Given that our phones need to be pocketable about all, it is impractical to use such a smartphone on everyday basis. The present engineering requires TCL to use three batteries for the phone, which in its present state would also need too long to charge fully, something that can create real world hindrance.
TCL also does not have software support for apps that can make use of the transforming form factor, and all of these factors are areas that will need collective work from the industry to get over. However, the opportunities that such devices represent are impressive, and offer us a glimpse of an exciting future that finally takes smartphones beyond the standardised form factor we've come to see and use nowadays.