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Foldable displays will soon be a reality

09 Nov 2018 | Rasmus Larsen |

The prototype displays that have been floating around for years will soon make it to actual consumer devices. Royole and Samsung have unveiled foldable smartphones, while LG and Huawei will soon join the race.

Foldable devices

OLED display technology is currently making inroads in the TV market but it also has the potential to change how we use our handheld devices. OLED on a plastic substrate can make displays hardy, flexible, foldable – even rollable.

Samsung has just shown off a camouflaged version of its foldable smartphone after having teased it in concept videos and with prototype displays for several years.

 Samsung foldable smartphone

“When it’s closed, it’s a phone” and “when it’s open, it’s a tablet”, the company said at its developers conference, explaining that it is working with Google and developers to optimize Android apps for this type of screen.

Samsung’s upcoming device features a 7.3-inch 1536x2152-pixel “Infinity Flex” OLED display when it is open. It also has a smaller 4.6-inch “cover display”. It is expected to launch sometime in 2019.

 Samsung foldable smartphone

A lesser known Chinese electronics company called Royole unveiled a foldable phone earlier this week. It is based on Samsung Display’s OLED panel. While Samsung has so far been incapable of mass-producing OLED TV panels, the display manufacturer has a tight grip on the segment for small and medium-sized OLED panels.

 Royole FlexPai

A new foundation?

Why would we want our displays to fold? Right now, it would appear that we have a technology in search of a problem rather than a design-driven approach but there is potential here. These are first generation devices but imagine some years from now where physical ports have been removed, driving electronics significantly reduced in size, and batteries perhaps flexible, too.

Or perhaps the future of foldable displays will look completely different than what we imagine right now.

- “The foldable display lays the foundation for a new kind of mobile experience,” said DJ Koh, president, Samsung Mobile.

As for the OLED display, Samsung says that it can withstand being folded 200,000 times, which corresponds to approximately 55 times per day for 10 years. OLED displays in many modern smartphones are actually already flexible if you were to remove them from the rigid casing, but not to the same degree as these new displays.

LG is also rumored to showcase a version of a foldable smartphone at CES 2019, presumably based on an LG Display OLED panel, and Huawei has confirmed that it is working on its own device that it expects to launch next year.

OLED technology has now given consumers screens with built-in speakers and incredibly thin “wallpaper” displays. The next steps are rollable TVs and foldable handheld screens. All of this in less than a decade. Just imagine the next ten years of display innovation as entirely new display technologies emerge.

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