Transparency, Foldability, and LiDAR Sensors — Latest Details on Apple and Samsung Phone Releases

Apple and Samsung offer some of the best smartphones and tablets in the market. Their latest flagship devices, the iPhone 11 and the Galaxy S20, include advances in design, performance, and software. However, a new set of announcements and patents have generated quite a buzz. Here’s what we might be seeing in the next generation of devices.

Yisela Alvarez Trentini
5 min readSep 16, 2020

LiDAR vs. 3D ToF Sensors

Apple’s fourth-generation iPad Pro already includes a new sensor called a LiDAR scanner on its rear camera. This sensor uses lasers to create a radar to survey the environment and measure distances and promises to make a difference, particularly in terms of augmented reality (AR) capabilities.

Android phones have been including 3D time-of-flight infrared sensors in their cameras, with flash-based scanner-less LiDAR systems included in their Galaxy Note 10+, Galaxy S20+, and Galaxy S20 Ultra. Samsung’s 3D ToF sensor technology uses reflections bounced off of objects in a scene and then analyzed to create a 3D map. That data captured by the lasers can then help determine, for example, the depth of field in photos.

Apple’s LiDAR system uses multiple pulses as opposed to one. It first sends a smaller pulse to determine distance and then moves the light around the rest of the scene at nano-second speeds to capture the complete environment.

The LiDAR scanner is an improvement over Samsung’s 3D ToF sensors because they can map an area point by point, minimizing noise and resulting in a more accurate 3D point cloud. Both the iPhone 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max will likely include a LiDAR Scanner.

LiDAR is the latest Apple attempt to make AR a key part of its apps and software and shows promise in making more immersive, faster, and better-augmented apps.


A patent discovered by Patently Apple in July revealed a possible design for a foldable iPhone. It’s not clear whether Apple is planning on manufacturing it, but the concept shows a part of the screen that jumps out from the other when the phone is folded. Notifications are shown in this part.

This is a clear difference between Apple’s idea and Samsung and Motorola foldable phones, which have a separate screen on the front where you can check for messages, voicemails, and messages without opening the phone.

The Galaxy Fold transitions from a 4.6-inch smartphone into a 7.3-inch tablet and was generally judged as “not too impressive.” The Galaxy Flip X, however, is a 6.7-inch smartphone that folds in half in order to become more portable and has been quickly embraced by critics.

Samsung called the Flip X a stylish smartphone designed for trendsetters and a work of engineering art. Its hinges can withstand 200,000 folds, and include a sweeper technology with nylon fibers that keeps dirt and dust at bay. The shape is optimized for hands-free and can hold its position at multiple angles, as well as open two apps, one on each half.

Flip phones seem to be making a comeback, and Apple’s patent would mark a clear difference from existing devices. We’ll have to wait and see.


Another set of patents filed by both Apple and Samsung this year might suggest the companies could be introducing a transparent display on a coming generation of devices.

Samsung was granted a design patent featuring a rounded smartphone with a transparent screen and a “rear bottom perspective view.” However, the feature is not described in detail, but apparently some sort of cover folds around the screen to keep it protected. Only the bezels are opaque. The patent was filed in January but surfaced in August.

Apple’s ideas have a different design: Their transparency looks more like a window than a full-fledged display. This hints at augmented reality features that could let a user look through the display and see a physical object on the other side — something on which the screen could overlay virtual objects. This would let users experience VR through the display as opposed to a camera.

Designs for transparent phones are not new. LG tried its DG9000 in 2009, but only the keyboard was transparent. Sonic Ericsson also created the Xperia Pureness, which had an actual transparent display, but wasn’t very good.

The challenge of transparent devices (Samsung’s patent in particular) is to find a way to house the battery and other components — or make these elements transparent as well!

iPhone 11 and Samsung S20

Both the iPhone 11 and the Samsung S20 flagships include several new features that are worth noting.

The iPhone 11 has two rear cameras and an ultra-wide lens, with a Night Mode tool that can capture low-light scenes with impressive detail. Its new Deep Fusion also optimizes details for medium-light settings, and the device has included the interesting named “slofies”- Slow-motion video or slow-motion selfies.

The Galaxy S20 offers a triple-rear setup with a telephoto camera and an impressive x30 zoom. Samsung also included in the model a low-light mode and countdown clock for taking shots. Their Single Take tool allows for the user to shoot a 10-second video, and then choose from curated (and cropped) photos, micro-videos, and animated live-focus pictures. Plus, the Galaxy S20 can capture video in 8K resolution, following the direction TVs and YouTube are heading. Samsung’s AMOLED display also shows more contrast, more vibrant blacks, and has an impressive refresh rate of 120H.

Both phones are water-resistant up to 2 meters (6.5 feet) for 30 minutes and have incorporated biometric solutions for unlocking the phones without typing in a PIN. The Galaxy S20 has an in-screen fingerprint sensor, and the iPhone 11 uses facial scanning. The Galaxy S20 will also support Sub-6 5G, which has slower peak speeds than the approaching tech known as millimeter wave.

Finally, the Galaxy S20 comes with reverse wireless charging. This novel feature allows for the device to charge other phones and accessories (such as a Galaxy Watch or Galaxy Buds) by directly placing the items on the phones back.

There might be a lot to look forward to in terms of innovation, but there’s also a lot to be happy about right now.

This article was originally published in Startup Savant on Thursday, September 10, 2020. Link:



Yisela Alvarez Trentini

Anthropologist & User Experience Designer. I write about science and technology. Robot whisperer. VR enthusiast. Gamer. @yisela_at