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Royole's new foldable display could soon appear in ZTE phones

But first, the Chinese company's third-generation Cicada Wing screen will appear in the FlexPai 2 foldable smartphone.

Royole's FlexPai from CES 2019 was one of the world's first foldable phones.
Sarah Tew/CNET

Most handset makers don't even have one foldable phone on the market, but Chinese vendor Royole is gearing up for its second FlexPai phone, which'll use its new third-generation display.

Now playing: Watch this: Royole reveals FlexPai 2 next-gen foldable display

The company late Tuesday unveiled its new Cicada Wing display, saying it's 50% brighter and has other "significant improvements" over its predecessor, which showed up in last year's FlexPai. The third-gen Cicada Wing display features improved viewing angle performance that keeps colors and bright images accurate and vivid when viewed from any perspective, Royole said. 

The screen's bend radius can close as tight as 1mm. The more flexible a material is, the smaller the bend radius is. Royole said its display will provide "the smoothest folding experience in the industry even after more than 200,000 bends." That figure is the amount of folds that Samsung's Galaxy Fold and Galaxy Z Flip are guaranteed to survive without breaking

Now playing: Watch this: Royole FlexPai, the world's first foldable phone, bends...

The display will first appear in Royole's FlexPai 2 before being used by partners like ZTE. Royole had planned to introduce the FlexPai 2 in late February at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Instead, the show was canceled because of worries about the novel coronavirus, which has since shut down cities from Singapore to California. 

On Tuesday, Royole said the FlexPai 2 will have a 7.8-inch flexible display with a 4:3 aspect ratio. It also features a new hinge, called the "Super Seamless & Stepless Hinge," that Royale said is "wearproof" and "mechanically robust." The company plans to launch the FlexPai 2 in the second quarter. 

"The performance and design of FlexPai 2 have been promoted to the next level, by adopting the state-of-art computing, memory [and] structural material technologies," the company said.

Foldables are expected to be the future of smartphones, with nearly every major company working on designs. Some allow phones to become even more compact by folding like high-tech flip phones, while others allow phones to expand outward into tablets. No matter the design, foldables are expected to get consumers excited about phones again and give them a reason to buy new models. 

Foldable future

at CES in January 2019, Royole captured the world's attention with its FlexPai foldable smartphone. The device was something never seen before, and all other companies in the phone market were rumored to be making their own designs. Rivals like Samsung, Huawei and Motorola quickly surpassed Royole's design and buzz, all but rendering the FlexPai a footnote in the history of foldable phones.

But foldables overall have been plagued by problems. The early devices had design problems that make their screens less-than-sturdy. Apps didn't take advantage of the multiple screens, and people didn't really know why they needed them. With Samsung's new Galaxy Z Flip and similar designs like Motorola's Razr, foldables are having their second burst. 

Royole on Tuesday said it's partnering with Chinese handset maker ZTE on its flexible screens. "The two parties will work together to promote the rapid popularization and application of fully flexible screens in the 5G era in the smart terminal devices and other fields," Royole said. ZTE also will use the third-generation Cicada Wing display for foldable phones. 

"Focusing on the smart communication technology and advanced video technology in the 5G era, ZTE, together with Royole, will explore the innovative applications of the fully flexible display technology in mobile devices, to deliver a new user experience," Feng Xu, president of ZTE's mobile device business, said in a statement. 

The companies didn't say when ZTE would launch a foldable using Royole's display technology.