Barcelona — For more than a decade, the iPhone defined the overall shape and style of a smartphone. Despite Apple’s patent litigation against its chief rival Samsung, that simple and iconic concept of a black rectangular touchscreen with rounded corners has been mimicked by manufacturers the world over. Rising demand from billions of new customers means that for many years, handset makers could get away with little real differentiation and still prosper, especially as Google’s low-cost Android operating system swept the market. However, after a bruising 2018 that saw the industry’s first decline in unit volumes, this is shaping up to be the year that smartphone designs are finally starting to evolve. “Clearly there is a need for differentiation but the technology was not ready to bring that differentiation to life,” said Francisco Jeronimo, a devices analyst at research group IDC. “Flexible displays are opening that door. It’s unleashing the creativity of those brands that are seein...

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