The Future Is Flexible

It’s jut a matter of time before we’re rolling our devices like newspapers.

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For the next installment in my display survey series, I will focus on advanced display technologies coming down the pipeline and how materials engineering solutions will enable tomorrow’s TVs and mobile devices to be flexible, bendable and foldable.

Source: Samsung

Source: Samsung

I touched on this topic at the recent SID Display Week Business Conference in San Jose, California, where I participated on a panel and shared how new technology inflections in size, resolution, picture quality and form factor are creating profitable opportunities for display makers. Simple analysis shows that rapid adoption of these new technology inflections can command as much as 3x the price for a display or end-market device. However, they are ripe with technical challenges that require advances in manufacturing processes and materials from suppliers like Applied Materials. Our unique process and equipment innovations can help panel makers overcome technical barriers and successfully capture the value of these inflections. Furthermore, implementing emerging technologies like flexible displays brings so many manufacturing changes that increased collaboration is a must between equipment and materials suppliers, as well as panel and device makers. This collaboration is extremely important to ensure new display technologies are implemented as rapidly as possible and at a yield (cost) that can drive mass consumer adoption.

Samsung’s new Galaxy Edge smartphone, with its beautiful curved edges, has the industry already buzzing about what cool, new display features we can expect next. The time is drawing near: fully flexible displays are coming and prototypes were already on full display at the SID conference and CES earlier this year. And according to our survey, there is an appetite worldwide for foldable or bendable displays.

While consumers love their large smartphone displays, lugging such a big device around is less than ideal. Over half of survey respondents (60% in the U.S., 83% in China and 82% in India) agreed strongly with the statement, “It would be cool to fold my mobile device’s screen in half and put it in my pocket.” Foldability also enables easy portability of larger displays and potentially will foster increased use of mobile devices for streaming video content on the go. Our survey indicates consumers in the U.S. (78%) and India (75%) are already watching a lot of video on their mobile devices. Would those numbers increase if you could fold a 12- or 14-inch screen down to the size of your average smartphone?

The industry’s technology roadmap has already outlined a viable path to flexible displays. Applied Materials’ Display Business Group is enabling that path and working closely with manufacturers to scale and support volume production of emerging flexible substrate technologies. We are the leader in thin-film encapsulation equipment for depositing the flexible films that protect flexible OLED displays. We also have roll-to-roll equipment that can help enable the large, fully flexible devices of the future. By applying our materials engineering expertise to the task, we are helping customers make flexible displays a reality.

It’s only a matter of time before we’ll be rolling up our devices like newspapers and wall-papering rooms with flexible displays, and I can’t wait to see it happen.