2831: xkcd Phone Flip

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xkcd Phone Flip
Theranos partnership: Sorry, we know, but we signed the contract back before all the stuff and the lawyers say we can't back out, so just try to keep your finger away from the bottom of the phone.
Title text: Theranos partnership: Sorry, we know, but we signed the contract back before all the stuff and the lawyers say we can't back out, so just try to keep your finger away from the bottom of the phone.


This is the 9th in the ongoing xkcd Phone series in which Randall explains his new joke phone designs with many strange and useless features. It is a reference to the somewhat recent Galaxy Z series, but instead of folding in half, it folds into the more complex and much less usable shape of a typical paper fortune teller. (A traditional paper fortune teller requires a square-shaped piece of material; to make this phone with a ~2:1 ratio rectangular shape into a fortune teller, it would first need to be folded in half lengthswise.)

The product's slogan suggests that this was not an intended feature, which would be incredibly difficult to create accidentally without causing the phone to become nonfunctional. It's therefore possible that this phone was designed by Beret Guy's company, which has in the past trademarked seemingly normal phrases and done impossible things with electronics.

The name Phone Flip is a play on the term Flip Phone, which has referred to older cellphones with a basic hinged construction, but Samsung, in particular, has released a line of smartphones under the Galaxy Z range given the name 'Flip' (or 'Fold') which use a flexible display across the hinge, with other manufacturers producing similar technology by other names. Randall's version takes this complexity up a notch with a currently impractical varifolded origami design.

Left column features

Exfoliating screen
A term commonly found on lotions and facial products, "exfoliating" means removing dead skin cells from the surface of the skin, in order to improve its appearance. This could mean that it will exfoliate the user's skin when pressed to it. However, this would probably require a mildly abrasive and/or adhesive screen texture or coating, which are usually not desirable qualities of a touchscreen. A different reading is that the screen itself exfoliates, i.e. slowly disintegrates. Unless the phone is an organism able to regrow exfoliated surfaces, this will eventually lead to the screen's disappearance, not an improvement of its appearance.
Orthotic shape for arch support
Orthotics are devices used to reduce stress on the body. "Arch support" is a specific term referring to padded inserts designed to fit to the contour of a person's foot and provide support for the arch of the foot, a raised area between the ball in front and the heel in back. Fitting this space requires either a curved shape or one that's thicker in the center, which would usually make a phone less straightforward (pun not intended) to use. (This assumes, of course, that the foot is shaped like a "normal" human foot.) Additionally, the materials used in a phone are not typically suitable for orthotic usage and doing so could worsen any issues and damage the phone from the stress of the person's weight upon it. However, it's possible that in this context, the phone is ergonomically shaped to fit the way that the typical hand arches around it. In the context of a smartphone, "Arch support" may also mean support for installing Arch Linux.
Single big pixel
A joke about how phones advertise how many pixels they have, not how few. Typical phone displays use many small pixels, each with relatively few display states. For instance, each pixel can show a uniform color. It would be difficult to make a useful display with a single pixel of this sort. Some displays use smaller numbers of more complicated picture elements (e.g., each element could show a letter, like a split-flap display, or a nixie tube). To make a useful display with one pixel means that element needs a different display state for every image the phone can show (like a carousel slide projector, movie projector, or gobo). This may also be a joke on "Megapixel".
Ready to eat
A typical sales pitch for convenience foods denoting that no time must be spent preparing the product for safe consumption, in contrast to other such meals where ingredients would need to be combined and/or cooked in some fashion. It is unknown how a phone could be produced in such a way as to be edible (perhaps the display could use sugar glass), but in any case, it seems likely that eating it would limit its future usefulness as a phone.[citation needed] An alternative interpretation is that the phone is alive and all ready to begin consuming its prey, whatever that may be.
Meaning less able to produce an immune response - so perhaps useful in that people do not want their phone to cause an immune response in their body, although cell phones typically cause no immune response. This is probably related to items that are marketed as hypoallergenic, less likely to cause an allergic reaction. It may also be a reference to persistent unsubstantiated claims that radio waves from mobile phones cause cancer and other disorders.
Up to 50% more
A play on the words "Up to 50% more <product>". Although considering that there is no mention of what product there could possibly be 50% more of (or 0% extra, as that is also less than or equal to 50%), this statement is useless. See 870: Advertising.
Full-spectrum backlight optimized for plant growth
Full-spectrum lights and backlights are typically used to increase color rendering accuracy, especially important in photography, art, and printing. It typically refers to the part of the spectrum people can see. Plants respond to some wavelengths outside our visual spectrum (e.g., UVA), and are less influenced by some portions of the visual spectrum (e.g. green, hence mostly reflecting such light). A backlight optimized for plant growth would not provide a very natural appearance to our eyes and typically appear pink. The screen backlight is unlikely to be used for growing plants. One scenario in which this would be an advantage is at the end of the phone's useful life; instead of being recycled, it could be repurposed as a light in a greenhouse.
Long-lasting main sequence battery
Perhaps referring to a "main sequence" star (Dwarf stars, like the Sun, where main energy generation is hydrogen fusion). Such stars spend a long time in this phase of evolution. This might also explain SPF 15 and full-spectrum backlight. Stars do last a long time compared to most cell phone batteries. This feature might be a reference to 1422: My Phone is Dying.
Break glass to access apps
A play on how emergency paraphernalia such as fire alarms and extinguishers are protected by glass casings in most places. The idea of this is to discourage removal of these items except in an emergency situation. It would not be helpful in the case of smartphone apps, which are frequently used. Presumably you would have to replace the glass each time you use an app, which is likely to prove tedious and expensive. Unusual things behind glass is also mentioned in 1634: In Case of Emergency. Could also refer to the process of Jailbreaking a smartphone, such as an iPhone, to allow the install of 3rd party apps from an alternate app store.

Right column features

Buy one get one
A play on typical retail sales advertised as "Buy one get one ____", where one buys one item at full price and gets another of that item either for free or at a reduced price. Since no discount has been mentioned, it would imply either (1) that you can get two at full price or perhaps (2) simply that if you buy a phone, you receive the phone; this is expected upon almost all purchases and is tautological in nature.
Bending phone activates chemical flashlight
This feature parallels a glow stick, which is also activated by bending the stick; this breaks an inner capsule causing chemicals to mix and produce light. However, doing this with a phone is likely to cause physical or chemical damage and additionally only works once, which is not very useful for a phone flashlight that one typically uses as a tool throughout the phone's lifetime. It might be fun at a rave though.
SPF 15 coating protects your face from websites
Sun protection factor (SPF) is a rating used to compare the protection provided by sun screens. Some people find some web sites excessively bright, colorful or garish, making them hard to read, or causing eye strain. This extends that to imply that some sites are so bright that they might cause sunburn. In reality, some sites, browsers, or plugins provide a night mode, for those who have problems with excess brightness. (See also full spectrum, and main sequence battery.)
Alternatively, SPF in this context might be a novel term for, for example, site protection factor, or socials protection factor, and be a method for protecting you from viewing potentially harmful content encountered on the internet.
Iatrogenic construction
'Iatrogenic' means 'physician caused', and usually refers to illnesses which are caused or worsened by medical malpractice. This may imply that the phone was made by doctors, which may align with the statement given in the title text.
All-vinyl data storage for maximum fidelity
This is a reference to the hipster maxim that vinyl records provide high fidelity music. And while vinyl data storage does exist, it's profoundly outdated and was never widely adopted. The relevant formats had several issues, including (relevantly) wear issues that lead to fidelity problems after repeated reads. It is also unlikely that vinyl storage could be engineered to provide sufficient storage density to meet the requirements of a modern smartphone.
Locks in moisture
Good for cosmetics perhaps, to combat 'dry skin' (which is really more to do with substances other than water), but generally bad for a cell phone, where ingress (let alone retention) of liquids tends not to help the electronics. Most modern phones cite their ability to lock out moisture.
National Weather Service partnership - phone is afraid of thunder
Probably a reference to the development of various public service systems which generate an alert to phone users to warn of likely dangerous events, such as storms, earthquakes, etc. In this case, though, rather than generate fear in the user, the phone itself becomes afraid. This may be further referencing the fact that, thanks to humanized personal assistant functions, some people have developed pseudo-human relationships with their devices, whereby they attribute emotions and other human characteristics to them. In reality, phones do not have emotions (yet), but even if they did, it's not clear how this would be a useful feature. How this fear manifests is also unexplained. It may turn off, or it may scream like the original xkcd phone did when in free fall. A number of the previous xkcd phones have had unexplained, inexplicable, or incomprehensible partnerships.
One-click ruina montium
Ruina montium ('mountain destroyer') was a now-lost mining technique used by the ancient Romans, thought to involve a form of hydrostatic drilling. It is not clear how this could be applied by a smartphone, let alone as a one-click operation. This may be a reference to the mobile phone industry's reliance on often unsustainable mining practices to supply the precious metals, rare earths, and other minerals required to make their devices work.
Free refills
Good for restaurant drinks, not typical for cell phones. Realistic meanings include providing complementary...
  1. "top ups" of cell phone plan minutes or data
  2. refueling (e.g., fuel cell power)
  3. recharging or battery swapping
  4. replacing the glass each time you use an app.

Title text

The title text references the failed company Theranos that notably could not live up to its promise to diagnose many health issues from a single drop of blood, and was charged with fraud for claiming it could do so. Due to legal agreements, and subsequent design choices already built in, the bottom of the phone will still collect a drop of your blood (unless you're particularly careful).


Ambox notice.png This transcript is incomplete. Please help editing it! Thanks.
[A rectangular phone with a touch screen. There is a small dark camera section at the top of the screen and a charging/connecting port may be shown on the lower casing edge. Lines on the left side of the phone lead from the general area of the image to feature descriptions down the leftmost edge of the frame.]
Exfoliating screen
Orthotic shape for arch support
Single big pixel
Ready to eat
Up to 50% more
Full-spectrum backlight optimized for plant growth
Long-lasting main sequence battery
Break glass to access apps
[Two phones folded in the shape of a 'paper fortune teller' are depicted on on the right, set one above the other with other general feature lines leading off from the nearest folded phone illustration towards further listed items down the right-hand side of the frame.]
Buy one get one
Bending phone activates chemical flashlight
SPF 15 coating protects your face from websites
Iatrogenic construction
All-vinyl data storage for maximum fidelity
Locks in moisture
National Weather Service partnership: phone is afraid of thunder
One-click ruina montium
Free refills
[Text below the phone:]
The xkcd Phone Flip
We actually didn't mean for it to do this

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this is my first time editing, did i do well? 21:39, 20 September 2023 (UTC)

Decent enough, assuming you were the one giving the reference to the Z-series. But it'll be expanded, improved and reformatted a lot, I predict. I put in my own (intended) first-edit, but clearly there's you (and possibly A.N. Other) already adding their own thoughts. (Which I am counting on, rather than trying to write it all in one go all by myself... I'll wait for it to settle down and then see if there are various tweaks I'll want try on whatever form it becomes.) 21:50, 20 September 2023 (UTC)
The other person was me, but I think there's someone else as well reformatting and rewriting things.-- 23:57, 20 September 2023 (UTC)

So, what is the meaning of "flip" here? JohnHawkinson (talk) 22:07, 20 September 2023 (UTC)

It's a reference to the Samsung Galaxy line of folding smartphones, which is marketed as 'Galaxy Z Flip' phones.  While there had been double-screened smartphones in the past, Samsung was able to figure out some way to have the actual screen flex and fold in the middle so that when it's closed the primary screen is protected, but when opened up the user sees a single screen without a hinge in the middle.  The current model (the 'Z Flip 5') is the sixth iteration of the device since it was originally introduced in China in 2019. RAGBRAIvet (talk) 22:36, 20 September 2023 (UTC)
I think it's just part of the whole marketroid feeling these are supposed to have. It's part of the name and the [alleged] "marketing" department, as is typical, came up with something extremely dumb and useless. See: SunOS vs Solaris 22:32, 20 September 2023 (UTC)

Anybody else think the main sequence battery is a fusion cell that is also the chemical flashlight and full spectrum backlight that necessitates the SPF 15 coating? 22:36, 20 September 2023 (UTC)

I'm thinking it's a reference to the Cyalume lightsticks which need to be bent, which shatters a small glass vial inside and releases a hydrogen peroxide solution into a second solution of an oxalate ester and electron-rich dye contained within the outer plastic shell. The resulting chemiluminescent reaction creates visible light. RAGBRAIvet (talk) 22:42, 20 September 2023 (UTC)
I assumed main sequence refers to stellar evolution in astronomy. Main sequence These stars have a relatively long life, matching the description. The SPF 15 coating and full spectrum would also make sense. However I am not sure that description as a chemical flashlight would follow appropriate. The primary energy generation would be nuclear (fusion). It has been long enough since I took astronomy I don't remember all the details of how the energy is converted into light, and whether that would ultimately be considered a chemical, thermal, or nuclear process (or combination thereof). 00:20, 21 September 2023 (UTC)
Even relatively cold parts of stars are too hot for any chemical reactions. The photons produced from fusion are caught and re-emitted by atoms in outer layers of stars and the spectrum DOES match thermal radiation, so thermal maybe. -- Hkmaly (talk) 21:21, 21 September 2023 (UTC)
As chemist, I automatically interpreted it as made from main group elements in the periodic system. Which actually would be a neat feature. 19:10, 22 September 2023 (UTC)

Arch support may also refer to the Linux distro 08:42, 21 September 2023 (UTC)

I initially misread the title text as being a Thanos partnership. In which case, presumably inadvertently touching the button could wipe out half the population of the universe. 10:25, 21 September 2023 (UTC)

Can destroy mountains with one click, but not half the population 10:32, 21 September 2023 (UTC)

The breaking the glass might refer to “ Break glass (which draws its name from breaking the glass to pull a fire alarm) refers to a quick means for a person who does not have access privileges to certain information to gain access when necessary.”

With a chemical flashlight, I assume the free refills might actually come in handy (though it doesn't say there is a chemical flashlight and with the flip form, bending might just refer to some mechanical switch activating the flashlight - or considering the possibly stellar power source, it just removes shielding). 627235 (talk) 11:01, 21 September 2023 (UTC)

At least it isn't a "chemical fleshlight". Moreover one activated by severe bending! 11:20, 21 September 2023 (UTC)

Had thought to note (but couldn't find a way to slip it into the Explanation) that the origami-form relies upon a square sheet, but the unfolded form seems to be (close enough to) 2:1 ratio. If it is 2:1 (give or take excess to go around the initial bend), the first step might of course be to make the screen effectively 2-ply, then worry about how to seemlessly fold that into the Fortune Teller, with convex/concave folds and the necessary compound corners. 11:20, 21 September 2023 (UTC)

"One pixel display" - I was surprised by the suggestion that this could be a static image, like a slide; I had imagined, and would like to see (perhaps more explicitly) the alternative, that the whole screen simply lights up in a single color (within the __-bit colorspace). -- 17:03, 21 September 2023 (UTC)

I agree with the latter - I would consider the pixel as the minimum picture element, no subdetails. Vdm (talk) 20:30, 21 September 2023 (UTC)
A single pixel with a lot of display states need not be static. Show a bunch in sequence like a film based movie projector. Pixel is the minimum addressable picture element. Think about ASCII art (e.g., printing Mona Lisa on a daisywheel printer), or graphics on the IBM PC monochrome display, Commodore PET, etc. There are also those pieces of art where each pixel is a small photograph (I don't know if there is a name for that). Not typical pixels, bit of a gray area. 21:10, 21 September 2023 (UTC)
A name for that: Photographic mosaic.
Also, consider perhaps waving a single pixel around fast and using time and actual position at that time with sufficient image-retention (by the static viewer) to build up an observable but very temporary image. 22:22, 21 September 2023 (UTC)

Anyone thinks the "Main sequence battery" could be a reference to 1422: My Phone Is Dying? -- 08:00, 22 September 2023 (UTC)

I wonder if the "we didn't actually mean" thing is a reference to those bendy iPhones almost a decade ago? 08:45, 22 September 2023 (UTC)

Maybe the explanation should also mention that kid's game that you do with a folded paper like the images on the right. I don't know how it is called, but this Facebook comment by "AJ Himmel" references it: "Can also be used to find out who you'll marry someday! Just repeatedly flip it open then unfold a flap!" Rps (talk) 17:01, 22 September 2023 (UTC)

It already does mention the kids' (note apostrophe!) game... "paper fortune teller". 17:22, 22 September 2023 (UTC)
I don't see any reason why a kid (singular) couldn't play with it on their own. In fact, in my experience, it was usually one kid that was playing the game - the rest were simply reluctant stooges. 09:26, 25 September 2023 (UTC)
Are you saying that only one particular kid ever played with such a game? With as solo an effort as any such individual(s) may have had? 16:10, 25 September 2023 (UTC)

Should Ruina montium really be described as a "lost mining technique" given [1] and [2]exist? It seems more like a colloquialism than lost knowledge to me. 05:23, 23 September 2023 (UTC)

Possible (tenuous) connection: the Ruina Montium feature in combination with the phone's demonstrated ability to shift into an angular, geometric form could be a reference to the angel Ramiel in Neon Genesis Evangelion, which demonstrated a mountain-destroying energy blast and has a somewhat similar shape. Shown here: [3] 07:13, 24 September 2023 (UTC)

What's incomplete in the transcript? I couldn't find anything in the text that wasn't there already.Something (talk) 14:39, 21 October 2023 (UTC)

Well, I had to remove the non-canon bulletpoints, to make it correct for Transcripts But I haven't also removed the {{incomplete transcript}} tag, just yet, as it probably needs someone else checking the way it has ended up and being happy with it. (NB. whenever someone declares themselves as happy, inevitably they attract the attention of someone who disagrees. ;) ) 17:50, 21 October 2023 (UTC)