FlexPai is a phone that demands attention and a bold choice that not many would make. It is after all the very first commercially available smartphone with a foldable, functional display. Surprisingly, FlexPai is not an LG or Samsung masterpiece (the tech titans we’ve expected to see such technology from for more than a year now), but the innovative product of a six year old company, Royole.
How did the startup beat them to the punch? We found out at CES 2019!
After playing with FlexPai for a bit, we met Dr Ze Yuan, the R&D Director of Royole for a quick chat. To be frank, we were expecting to hear him describe at length the hurdles faced while developing the phone. Instead, Dr. Ze made the whole process seem fun, not necessarily easy but certainly a challenge they loved undertaking.
“Not only did we have the fundamental r&d, we manufactured the display ourselves, [as] we have our own factory in Shenzhen. We work on [the] product, design the product [ourselves]”, explained Dr. Ze.
We had to redesign every single layer of what’s involved in the display to make this happen
It is definitely easier to get the approvals needed and speed up the development process of a product when every bit of the technology and manufacturing is done “in-house”. That said, we got the impression that without a startup mentality that every single Royole employee adhered too, they might not have been the first to break the ice.
Dr. Ze confirmed it when admitting that “We still see ourselves as a startup company, so our job is to disrupt the market. […] we have nothing to lose”.
This determination helped them make FlexPai a reality, at the price point of an iPhone. Now, the hefty price might seem ludicrous, coming from a startup, until you think about the research and tests done to bring such innovation forward.
We still see ourselves as a startup company, so our job is to disrupt the market
We’re not discussing a flagship with dual camera and a notch-less display here, but a premium phone with an entirely new form factor and a unique OS built on top of Android. A foldable display that has been tested many times, until it was reliable enough to be put in the hands of reviewers and customers.
I’m a gadget guy, I carry three phones, hope to wear two wearables on each wrist
The work is not over, though. Dr. Ze Yuan told us that while FlexPai has been up for pre-orders in China, in the US they still need to get certifications and partner up with carriers.
As tedious as that seems, it is necessary if Royole wants to stay top of mind with the US market and keep innovating in the years to come.
We are definitely excited to see what Royole pulls off in the mid 2020s. The willingness and smarts are definitely there, as well as the enthusiasm for developing gadgets that complete one’s life: “I’m a gadget guy, I carry three phones, hope to wear two wearables on each wrist!”
With Royole’s focus on flexible displays, I wouldn’t be surprised to see smartwatches with their name on them really soon.