Photos: Lenovo

In recent years, phones have been looking increasingly similar, and so have laptops. Over the last year or so, though, there's been a rise in experimentation, with foldable displays and multi-screen devices coming first to smartphones and now to laptops as well.

Why it matters: New ideas could lead us to whatever is next for computers and phones, but could also point the way to even bigger revolutions, such as the prospect of augmented reality glasses or VR headsets becoming mainstream computing tools.

Driving the news: Lenovo has started shipping the X1 Fold, previewed at CES, that features a giant flexible display that spans two screens. Meanwhile, another just-introduced Lenovo laptop sports a traditional display but adds built-in Bluetooth earbuds that charge inside the device and pop out when needed for that Zoom meeting.

  • Apple is moving the Mac to its own chips, similar to those used in the iPhone. Executives have hinted that the shift not only will help cut costs, but also paves the way for designs that wouldn't have otherwise been possible.
  • All this follows a wave of new dual-screen and foldable designs in the smartphone market, including Microsoft's Surface Duo, LG's Wing and a number of flexible screen folding devices from Samsung and Motorola.

Flashback: Before the iPhone changed everything, manufacturers tried out lots of different approaches to phone hardware. There were all kinds of designs from candy bars to flip phones to whatever this was.

  • Now, the experimentation is happening at all layers of the devices. While the most visible changes are those made to the physical design, hardware makers are also experimenting at the chip level.

Yes, but: Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should. Some of the flexible-display craze is happening simply because the technology has advanced far enough to do so. And new designs often add tricky components like custom hinges that increase cost and complexity.

Don't underestimate the power of the traditional.

  • There's a reason the world has centered around big all-glass screens for smartphones and a fairly standardized approach to laptops. They work pretty darn well for a large group of people, and they can be easily mass produced and hold up relatively well (cracked screens aside) to lots of use.

What's next: Expect more experimentation, for at least a while, as device makers look to see which, if any, of these new models click.

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Ina Fried, author of Login
Updated Oct 13, 2020 - Technology

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Photo: Apple

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