Are Flexible Screens Just Three Years Away?

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It’s long been the dream of display makers to have bendable displays, one that will give rather than crack. One that you can roll up and stow away instead of lying it flat and protecting it.

The head of Corning Glass Technologies, maker of the Gorilla Glass used in the iPhone and other smartphones, says that its Willow flexible glass will be usable in three years’ time. Corning sent samples of Willow to consumer electronics makers last year, but there is still work to be done.

Corning Willow Glass“People are not accustomed to glass you roll up. The ability of people to take it and use it to make a product is limited,” said James Clappin, president of Corning Glass Technologies, in an interview with Bloomberg.

Corning’s Willow glass is one of several attempts at flexible displays. Both Samsung and LG have similar efforts in the works. Willow is expected to support thinner backplanes and color filters for both organic light emitting diodes (OLED) and liquid crystal displays (LCD).

Naturally, Willow will be used in things like smartphones, tablets, and notebooks but initially, it’s expected to be used in simple products like a flexible barrier for solar panels or as a thin film behind some touch panels.

The problem that will bedevil CE product makers isn’t just the glass, argues Gerry Purdy, president of Mobile Trax, it’s everything that goes along with it. When you change a component radically, like the display, everything else has to change as well, he said.

“It’s not unlike the reduction in screen size from a PC to smartphone. That move wasn’t just shrinking the display and using the same user interface. It was rearchitecting the user interface to make it work in that form factor,” he said.

“So if you want to go into something you can wear on your wrist, it isn’t just shrinking the smartphone display, it’s thinking of what that device might be useful for,” Purdy added.

A wristwatch-sized smartphone is the latest rumor du jour, with mortal enemies Samsung and Apple actually engaging in a battle of leaked rumors that they are working on smartphone like devices that can be work on the wrist. But Purdy said an iPhone, already tightly packed in its current form fact, won’t just shrink down to wristwatch size.

“It’s as much of a challenge to put a chipset and electronic silicon in that small of a form factor as it is to shrink the screen,” he said. “Such a phone will have to rely more on voice commands,” he said, since fingers won’t work so well on display that small.



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