Small tech firm beats Samsung to release world's first folding smartphone

The Royole Corporation beat Samsung to the punch when it recently released the world's first commercially available folding smartphone.

  • The phone, called FlexPai, features three screens when folded and it costs $1,318.
  • FlexPai runs Royole's custom Water OS, which will likely be a downside for consumers.
  • Samsung, which has reportedly spent years developing a flexible smartphone, is expected to release a new device this week.

A Chinese tech company unveiled the world's first foldable phone to journalists on Monday, a move that comes days before Samsung is expected to introduce its long-awaited flexible display phone.

The California-based Royole Corporation says its new product, dubbed the FlexPai, is a combination of a mobile phone and tablet. FlexPai is still in early stages of development, but Royole is currently offering a developer model for $1,318. Its features include:

  • 7.8-inch screen, full-color flexible display with 4:3 aspect ratio and 1920 x 1440 resolution
  • 128GB storage
  • Capable of folding up to 180 degrees
  • Three screens (primary, secondary and edge) are available when folded
  • Two cameras with 20 and 16 megapixels that can be bent to capture objects at unique angles
  • Can be folded 200,000 times

Although early tests of the FlexPai indicate that it works well enough, one potential downside for consumers is that the device runs Royole's custom Water operating system, about which Nick Statt wrote in an article for The Verge:

"The software seemed extremely sluggish, apps continuously opened accidentally, and the orientation kept changing randomly when one of the Royole representatives was demonstrating the folding process. That, to me, indicates that the company's custom Water OS (a fork of Android 9.0, Royole says) is probably not the most robust operating system just yet."

Photo: Royole

​Beating Samsung to the punch

Samsung has been hinting at plans to unveil a foldable phone, rumored to be called 'Galaxy F', at its developer conference on Wednesday. It'd be a release that's been years in the making.

Since Samsung first unveiled prototypes of its flexible OLED displays in 2013, rumors have surfaced nearly every year that the South Korean tech giant was on the cusp of releasing the world's first foldable smartphone, though no device ever materialized.

In July, sources close to Samsung revealed that the company had developed a prototype of a flexible smartphone, called 'Winner', that has a 7-inch screen and can be folded in half. The price tag was rumored to be around $1,500, which some noted might be too steep to pique consumer interest.

But the bigger problem for Samsung, arguably, is that the foldable phone could turn out to be little more than a gimmick, a tiny branch on the evolutionary tree of smartphone technology. The good news for Samsung is that its Android mobile OS is almost certainly more reliable and familiar than the FlexPai's Water OS.

However, Samsung could face more serious competition soon—rumor has it Apple is developing a folding phone that could be released in 2020.

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New fossils suggest human ancestors evolved in Europe, not Africa

Experts argue the jaws of an ancient European ape reveal a key human ancestor.

Surprising Science
  • The jaw bones of an 8-million-year-old ape were discovered at Nikiti, Greece, in the '90s.
  • Researchers speculate it could be a previously unknown species and one of humanity's earliest evolutionary ancestors.
  • These fossils may change how we view the evolution of our species.

Homo sapiens have been on earth for 200,000 years — give or take a few ten-thousand-year stretches. Much of that time is shrouded in the fog of prehistory. What we do know has been pieced together by deciphering the fossil record through the principles of evolutionary theory. Yet new discoveries contain the potential to refashion that knowledge and lead scientists to new, previously unconsidered conclusions.

A set of 8-million-year-old teeth may have done just that. Researchers recently inspected the upper and lower jaw of an ancient European ape. Their conclusions suggest that humanity's forebearers may have arisen in Europe before migrating to Africa, potentially upending a scientific consensus that has stood since Darwin's day.

Rethinking humanity's origin story

The frontispiece of Thomas Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863) sketched by natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

As reported in New Scientist, the 8- to 9-million-year-old hominin jaw bones were found at Nikiti, northern Greece, in the '90s. Scientists originally pegged the chompers as belonging to a member of Ouranopithecus, an genus of extinct Eurasian ape.

David Begun, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, and his team recently reexamined the jaw bones. They argue that the original identification was incorrect. Based on the fossil's hominin-like canines and premolar roots, they identify that the ape belongs to a previously unknown proto-hominin.

The researchers hypothesize that these proto-hominins were the evolutionary ancestors of another European great ape Graecopithecus, which the same team tentatively identified as an early hominin in 2017. Graecopithecus lived in south-east Europe 7.2 million years ago. If the premise is correct, these hominins would have migrated to Africa 7 million years ago, after undergoing much of their evolutionary development in Europe.

Begun points out that south-east Europe was once occupied by the ancestors of animals like the giraffe and rhino, too. "It's widely agreed that this was the found fauna of most of what we see in Africa today," he told New Scientists. "If the antelopes and giraffes could get into Africa 7 million years ago, why not the apes?"

He recently outlined this idea at a conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.

It's worth noting that Begun has made similar hypotheses before. Writing for the Journal of Human Evolution in 2002, Begun and Elmar Heizmann of the Natural history Museum of Stuttgart discussed a great ape fossil found in Germany that they argued could be the ancestor (broadly speaking) of all living great apes and humans.

"Found in Germany 20 years ago, this specimen is about 16.5 million years old, some 1.5 million years older than similar species from East Africa," Begun said in a statement then. "It suggests that the great ape and human lineage first appeared in Eurasia and not Africa."

Migrating out of Africa

In the Descent of Man, Charles Darwin proposed that hominins descended out of Africa. Considering the relatively few fossils available at the time, it is a testament to Darwin's astuteness that his hypothesis remains the leading theory.

Since Darwin's time, we have unearthed many more fossils and discovered new evidence in genetics. As such, our African-origin story has undergone many updates and revisions since 1871. Today, it has splintered into two theories: the "out of Africa" theory and the "multi-regional" theory.

The out of Africa theory suggests that the cradle of all humanity was Africa. Homo sapiens evolved exclusively and recently on that continent. At some point in prehistory, our ancestors migrated from Africa to Eurasia and replaced other subspecies of the genus Homo, such as Neanderthals. This is the dominant theory among scientists, and current evidence seems to support it best — though, say that in some circles and be prepared for a late-night debate that goes well past last call.

The multi-regional theory suggests that humans evolved in parallel across various regions. According to this model, the hominins Homo erectus left Africa to settle across Eurasia and (maybe) Australia. These disparate populations eventually evolved into modern humans thanks to a helping dollop of gene flow.

Of course, there are the broad strokes of very nuanced models, and we're leaving a lot of discussion out. There is, for example, a debate as to whether African Homo erectus fossils should be considered alongside Asian ones or should be labeled as a different subspecies, Homo ergaster.

Proponents of the out-of-Africa model aren't sure whether non-African humans descended from a single migration out of Africa or at least two major waves of migration followed by a lot of interbreeding.

Did we head east or south of Eden?

Not all anthropologists agree with Begun and his team's conclusions. As noted by New Scientist, it is possible that the Nikiti ape is not related to hominins at all. It may have evolved similar features independently, developing teeth to eat similar foods or chew in a similar manner as early hominins.

Ultimately, Nikiti ape alone doesn't offer enough evidence to upend the out of Africa model, which is supported by a more robust fossil record and DNA evidence. But additional evidence may be uncovered to lend further credence to Begun's hypothesis or lead us to yet unconsidered ideas about humanity's evolution.

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