With the shift from flip phones to the chocolate bar design of smartphones, the screen has become a major point of failure and weakness. They break, shatter, scratch and crack even in protective cases.
So Samsung, now the world's largest smartphone maker, and Corning, a company that invented durable clear displays but sat on it for decades until Steve Jobs came calling in 2007, are tackling the problem with their respective fixes.
At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) taking place in Las Vegas, Corning announced Gorilla Glass 3 with a protective layer called Native Damage Resistance, which it promises brings durability enhancements at the atomic structural level of the glass.
Corning said the new Native Damage Resistance provides Gorilla Glass 3 with improved durability to withstand deep scratches and cracks in the glass. This means better resistance, reduced scratch visibility, and better retained strength once a scratch occurs.
Separately, Samsung may finally debut a flexible display for its upcoming Galaxy S IV phone, expected in the first half of this year. Samsung has promised to deliver a bendable glass display that would bend rather than break or shatter for some time but has missed at least two target dates.
In Samsung's case, the new flexible class has been codenamed "Project J," after mobile division chief JK Shin. It could be in the new Galaxy S IV, rumored for an April release. The latest word from CES is that the company would show off a 5.5-inch display with 1280x768 display and a rather low resolution of 267 pixels per inch (PPI). However, Samsung has not commented or made any announcements at CES as yet.
A Gorilla-Sized Job
These displays face a very difficult challenge, notes Vinita Jakhanwal, director of small and medium displays at iSuppli. They have to be thinner and lighter than the previous generation, but at the same time tougher and more durable. Thinner and tougher don't usually go together in the materials business. Plus, they are expected to be higher resolution and lower power at the same.
"It is the whole position of all the parts working well together that's a challenge," she said. "And then they have to get the same results every time they make these displays in the millions of units. Yields are the challenge.
For instance, when OLED first came out, yields were very low, she said. It took a while for display makers to get the manufacturing process right and yields to come up. The same holds true for these new displays, especially a flexible display.
But then they have to make sure the screen and substrate work together or you face the issue of losing the effectiveness of touch gestures through the glass. "You don't want to lose the efficiency and accuracy. With less distance between pixels and screen plus all those processors in the phone and the phone generates too much noise," said Jakhanwal.
Resolutions are also improving. Jakhanwal said that at the show she has seen phones with more than 400 ppi displays from HTC, Huawei and ZTE. The high end of displays now, like the Lumia 920, iPhone 5 and Galaxy S III, are in the 310-330 ppi range.
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