“None of the hinge suppliers were willing to create a hinge for our laptops with the second screen flipping upright,” explains Krohn. “They all said it’s not possible. Our own mechanical engineers created our hinge mechanism and we had to teach the supplier how to make it and make it work.”
If you’ve seen Lenovo’s X1 Fold device, you’ll notice that it offers stylus compatibility. The same goes for Samsung’s larger foldable phone, the Galaxy Z Fold 4. The ZenBook 17 Fold OLED doesn’t offer pen support, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. “We would very much like to support the stylus,” says Krohn, “but this is part of the process and learning pains of growing into a new form factor. We decided not to support a stylus because, depending on how you use the , you can hurt [plastic] panel, and we just wanted to be extra careful and avoid that, especially for the first generation device.”
One component that foldable PC makers like Lenovo and Asus have had to contend with — that foldable phone designers haven’t — is the keyboard. Phone users are familiar with a mobile touchscreen interface and the interaction it brings, but there is not yet a good PC equivalent. As a consequence, folding PC manufacturers include a Bluetooth keyboard accessory with their experimental designs. This brings its own challenges, including that important weight consideration.
“Once the data is there, we can make it optional,” says Albinus. “For the next generation of these displays, a smaller bend radius may be needed [of the folding panel]; there must be more options to design it in different ways.” The hinge’s current larger bend radius provides a useful gap for the keyboard to nestle into when closed.
Chris Harrison, a computer science researcher and director of the Future Interfaces Group at Carnegie Mellon University, doesn’t see a complete switch to touchscreen keyboards—or a useful reduction in the weight burden—for this kind of device coming soon. “The QWERTY keyboard is maxed out,” he says. “You don’t need to improve it. It’s as good as it gets, so it’s hard to displace it. You can type on a phone, but laptops need to deliver more when it comes to typing.” He offers spreadsheets as an example of the kind of work that would be tough without a keyboard.
The elephant in the room is, of course, this foldable PC’s high price. Asus knows this. “Clearly, price was not a consideration,” says Krohn. “When we do these kinds of technological innovations, it’s the flag bearer and everyone pays attention to it and looks at it. You have a much bigger budget. I know our design guys, they never get enough budget; they always want more budget to do something really cool. This is not a mass market product. This is not for everyone.”