When Samsung (NASDAQOTH:SSNLF) unveiled its new Galaxy Note 4 on Wednesday, it first seemed to be an exercise in incremental upgrades. The phablet device features an improved stylus pen and related software, a sharper 5.7-inch Super AMOLED display in a metal casing, an advanced 16 megapixel rear-facing camera, a better fingerprint scanner, and even a UV sensor for any sun-conscious users. All are certainly "nice-to-have" features, but none seem capable of truly transforming the smartphone industry.
"Introducing Galaxy Note Edge"
However, the flagship Galaxy Note 4 wasn't all Samsung had up its sleeve. Near the bottom of its press release was a discrete subhead titled, "Introducing Galaxy Note Edge."
The limited edition Galaxy Note Edge is a variant of the Galaxy Note 4, and sports a curved 5.6-inch Youm OLED display which wraps around the side of the device. Using the side display -- which Samsung has dubbed the "Edge Screen" -- Galaxy Note Edge users will be able to access frequently used apps, alerts, and other device functionality even when the cover is closed. And when the cover is open, users can receive notifications directly on the Edge Screen without interrupting whatever else they're doing on the device.
Then again, the Galaxy Note Edge's unique display isn't entirely new. In fact, Samsung first showed off a similar Youm prototype at CES in January, 2013 -- though that device was thicker, clunkier, and featured a curve which seemed notably less pronounced than that of the commercially ready Galaxy Note Edge.
That's also not to mention Samsung's curved Galaxy Round smartphone, which launched last fall, as well as the recently unveiled Galaxy Gear S smartwatch, which has a two-inch curved AMOLED display to better conform your wrist.
A sign of things to come
But there's another way the Galaxy Note Edge is significant in its own right. First, the Galaxy Note Edge is not only Samsung's largest commercial Youm device so far, but also arguably the only one to introduce really useful software functionality to complement its curved display. By contrast, the Galaxy Round seemed to be curved merely to prove it could be done -- though it did offer less-than-compelling features to take advantage of its side-to-side curve, including a "roll effect" to allow users to check notifications by literally pressing on one side to roll the device toward themselves.
But most importantly is what the Galaxy Note Edge portends for its device category going forward. Remember, at CES earlier this year, Samsung was said to be secretly showcasing another prototype featuring a foldable touch-sensitive display. Think, for example, of a tablet which could effectively fold into a smartphone using a single seamless display.
To get to that point, however, Samsung is taking baby steps to foster enthusiasm surrounding flexible displays -- just like the one we see today in the Galaxy Note Edge. That Samsung is ramping its commercial efforts to promote a larger curved phablet should serve as a reminder that we're that much closer to truly disruptive tech like that secret foldable prototype.
In the end, that's why I think the Galaxy Note Edge is the most exciting phablet we've seen so far.
Steve Symington owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool recommends Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.