Exclusive: Motorola is much more serious about the rollable concept than anybody realised

Motorola has been showing off a rollable concept phone over the past few months – in fact, I even got to spend some time with the prototype at MWC 2023 and was impressed with the potential on offer. 

But while it was fun, I tapered my expectations because concepts are exactly that – concepts. These are fun and interesting ways for companies to experiment with ‘the next big thing’ but, generally speaking, these concepts never make it to the light of day. 

Take the OnePlus Concept 1 from 2020, a smartphone with a colour-shifting rear glass that could hide the rear camera setup on demand, as an example. It was a very intriguing idea at the time, but three years on, we’ve yet to see the tech in any OnePlus (or Oppo) smartphone. 

With that and other similar examples of concept tech in mind, I thought the Motorola rollable phone was a cool concept but not something I’d ever actually see in day-to-day life – but it turns out that Motorola is much more serious about the prototype and the form factor than it initially let on.

I got the chance to speak to Ruben Castano, Head of Customer Experience & Design at Motorola, at the launch of the Motorola Razr 40 Ultra in Madrid last week, and he teased big things for the form factor.  

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“If you think about it, that motion of rolling actually fundamentally fixes the same consumer pain points [as foldables]” Castano explained – and I agree. Much like flip-style foldables, the rollable concept is a pocketable smartphone whose display can expand at will to provide a big-screen experience on demand. In some scenarios, like watching a YouTube video full screen, the experience is actually automatic. 

In fact, the development of the rollable concept and the Razr 40 Ultra seems to have gone hand-in-hand, with Castano remarking that “many of the essential building blocks of the rollable are in Razr today. We just, y’know, reconfigured some things. The plastic display is the same plastic display”. 

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That helps explain how Motorola was able to deliver a relatively polished prototype so early on, with many of the features and functions of the unit I demoed working as they should, from the display to the camera and the OS in general. 

However, it’s the revelation that Motorola has multiple working samples in the hands of consumers right now that shocked me the most. I assumed it was very much an internal project, but according to Castano, that couldn’t be further from the truth. 

“We have multiple units of those rollable devices in consumer hands today. We’re learning from them, they’re using them as their daily device. In parallel, engineers also have a lot of units … and they’re continuing the development process.”

Imagine being one of the few regular consumers around the world who gets to try a next-gen foldable form factor? That must be pretty damn cool. But what’s the end goal? That’s yet to be seen, apparently, but the time will come when a decision has to be made. 

“At some point, we’re going to put all that data together […] we’re going to see what is needed to make a rollable or see if a rollable makes sense in the market” Castano explained to me.

So, while we’re likely not going to see Motorola unveiling a rollable smartphone sometime this year, it does look very promising for the form factor in general, and it could very well be something we find ourselves using a few years from now once foldables and flexible displays are a little more ubiquitous.

Are you excited about the idea of a rollable smartphone, or will you stick to the regular flip-style or book-style foldables? Alternatively, do you really care about foldable smartphones? Let me know your thoughts on Twitter.

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