Samsung offers 1st curved smartphone

SEOUL — Samsung Electronics is selling what it called the world’s first smartphone with a curved display as the largest handset maker moves toward devices with bendable screens in its competition with Apple.

The Galaxy Round, with a 5.7-inch display, went on sale in South Korea Wednesday for $1,011, Samsung said Tuesday. The 7.9- millimeter thick device will only be available in the Suwon, South Korea-based company’s home market and in one color: brown.

The Round joins the Galaxy Gear smartwatch, the Galaxy Golden smartphone with a clamshell design, the flagship S4 and an upgraded Note among devices introduced this year as Samsung offers products at multiple price points to maintain sales growth. Amid fresh competition from the latest iPhones, Samsung is expanding its handset lineup into new shapes and sizes as it works on technology to produce flexible screens.

“This phone signifies something that is much more important,” said Warren Lau, an analyst at Kim Eng Securities Ltd. in Hong Kong. “In the next 18 months or so, we could see Samsung launching foldable display devices. That is going to be a game changer.”

That could see a 5.5-inch smartphone unfold to an 11-inch display and help create a new market, Lau said.

In January, Samsung showed a flexible organic light-emitting diode, or OLED, display that can bend as it plays images and said it has “various mobile application opportunities,” according to a statement at the time. The material is composed of thin plastic instead of glass.

The Galaxy Round’s curved display is designed to make the phone screen viewable from different angles and be more comfortable to hold in a user’s hand, Samsung said.

“The way we look at foldable displays is it could totally replace all the existing smart devices,” Lau said. A foldable display device “could destroy a tablet market or a notebook market,” he said.

Samsung started selling 55-inch curved TVs using organic light-emitting diodes for about $13,500 in its home market in June.

Last month, Samsung released the Galaxy Gear wristwatch device that can make phone calls, check emails and take photos. Apple also has a team of designers working on a watch-like device, two people familiar the matter said in February.

The first companies to sell devices that multitask could lock customers into their platform and boost device sales, with researcher Strategy Analytics expecting 500,000 Galaxy Gears to be shipped this year.

Samsung shipped about 32 percent of smartphones worldwide in the second quarter, more than twice its nearest competitor, Apple, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The company announced the new curved phone a day after President Obama decided not to veto a ban won by Apple in a patent-infringement dispute. The South Korean company asked Obama to overturn the ban ordered by the U.S. International Trade Commission on public policy grounds, the same relief the president gave Apple in August from an order barring imports of the iPhone 4S.

The company last week reported record third-quarter operating profit of 10.1 trillion won as an expanded range of mid-priced smartphones captured sales in China and India.

Samsung is also the world’s biggest maker of TVs and chips. The A7 processor inside Apple’s new iPhone 5s was made by Samsung, according to a teardown of the handset by IFixit.

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