After having spent a decade talking up the prospects, we are in 2019 witnessing the birth of consumer devices with flexible displays. LG and Samsung are making it possible through OLED display technology.
Samsung Fold and LG R9
You may have heard about devices with flexible screens from Chinese brands but it is Korean companies who have been paramount in developing and commercializing the technology.
LG and Samsung have, in each their own way, invested billions into OLED display technology and mass production facilities. The same two companies supply many leading brands with displays.
A few hours ago, Samsung unveiled to the world its first foldable phone, Galaxy Fold. It is equipped with two displays, one of which is a 7.3-inch foldable OLED display with 1536x2152 resolution that Samsung has dubbed ‘Infinity Flex Display’. Folded up, the phone is a tall and relatively thick device but when folded out it is a slim device with a large screen.
Last month at CES 2019, LG unveiled to the world the first rollable TV (R9) that can roll up into a box that also serves as a pedestal and a full music system. It is a 65-inch OLED TV with 4K resolution and perhaps more importantly it has the exact same picture quality as LG’s rigid OLED TVs.
The launch of Samsung Fold and LG R9, respectively, also highlight an interesting dynamic in the marketplace. Samsung is the clear leader in mass production of small-to-medium sized OLED displays but has been incapable of commercializing large-sized OLED displays, while LG is alone in mass producing large-sized OLED displays but has been struggling to commercialize small-to-medium sized OLED displays.
OLED technology is an enabler
Lost in all of the glitz and glamour of the announcements is the fact that OLED display technology is at the heart of the matter. The other components in the two products are not flexible. You would not understand the significance of this by reading many of the reports from mainstream media about the Galaxy Fold as many reports do not include a single mention of OLED display technology.
Samsung, LG, and other companies have been talking up the potential of OLED display technology for more than a decade. Over the past 10 years, we have seen so many prototypes that we have lost count. In the beginning, it felt like a distant science-fiction dream but as time progressed it became clear that flexible displays have the potential to change the industry.
Of course, the first-generation devices will be expensive and rough around the edges. The Samsung Fold will cost $2000 dollars and LG’s rollable TV will surely carry a 5-figure price tag. While it is easy to brush aside these devices as toys for the rich, one has to look beyond the trees to see the forest. Over the next decade, these displays can enable new form factors and device types. The displays are extremely thin, flexible, and durable but still offer the same excellent picture quality. OLED displays can be deposited onto glass, plastic, and other substrates.
In the future, other types of self-emitting display technologies such as microLED or QD-LED may continue this trend but right here and right now OLED is the enabler. Few of us will be buying the first-gen devices but it is exciting to see that that flexible, foldable, rollable displays – or whatever you want to call them – have arrived.