May 24, 2024

Flexible Display: The Future of Displays

Introduction
Flexible display technology has the potential to revolutionize display devices and user experiences in the coming years. These innovative displays can bend, fold or be rolled up for easy portability. major electronics companies have invested heavily in flexible display research and development over the past decade. Let’s take a closer look at the key aspects of this emerging display technology.

OLED vs LCD

There are two main display panel technologies used for flexible displays – OLED (organic light-emitting diode) and LCD (liquid crystal display). OLED displays are more suited for flexible applications as they do not require a backlight and can be made on plastic substrates. Each pixel acts as its own tiny light source which makes the displays very thin. Samsung, LG and others have commercialized foldable OLED phones and tablets.

LCD panels face challenges in achieving flexibility due to the need for a rigid glass substrate and backlight. However, companies like BOE, TCL and Royole have demonstrated flexible LCD prototypes using plastic substrates and film-based backlights. While still in early stages, flexible LCDs have potential for applications requiring larger screens.

Applications in Smartphones

The most prominent commercial applications of flexible displays so far have been in smartphones from Samsung and Motorola. Samsung’s Galaxy Fold and Flip Z phones feature outward folding OLED panels that can transform from a small display to a large tablet-sized one. Motorola also launched the re-envisioned Razr with inward folding screen.

These innovative form factors allow more versatile usage modes compared to regular slab designs. The phones can switch between a compact size for portability and an expansive canvas for entertainment and productivity. Additional screen area is utilized without increasing device dimensions when folded. Advanced screen protection and hardening technologies ensure the panels withstand regular folding/unfolding cycles.

Wearables and Foldable Computers

Flexible displays are making wearables and computing devices more versatile as well. Companies like LG, Royole and Lenovo have demonstrated prototypes of rollable laptops and tablets. The screens can be partially or fully extended on demand for different usage scenarios. Such always-ready-to-use form factors could replace conventional clamshell laptop designs in future.

In wearables, flexible screens are enabling entirely new form factors like round smartwatches from LG and TCL. Circular displays adhere better to watch designs compared to traditional square panels. Augmented/virtual reality headsets may also feature wrap-around flexible screens to create more immersive experiences. Smart glasses and head-mounted displays are key applications under development.

Manufacturing Challenges

While the technology holds massive promise, mass production of flexible displays faces several manufacturing challenges. Producing large, defect-free panels using plastic substrates is difficult compared to rigid glass. Maintaining pixel/circuit integrity during repeated bending/folding requires extensive validation and testing. Higher costs remain a major barrier for widespread flexible device adoption as well.

Samsung and LG have overcome many issues through refinements over decades but costs are still higher than traditional LCD/OLED fabrication. Other challenges include developing durable yet lightweight form factors that can withstand everyday use. Novel sealing and protective coating technologies are required to prevent moisture/oxygen damage to organic circuits over time.

Future Outlook

With sustained innovation and mass production investments, flexible displays could become mainstream in the next 5 years across multiple consumer devices. Larger smartphones, foldable tablets, roll-up laptop/monitor replacements and sophisticated wearables are some key areas. Invisible embeddable and stretchable displays could enable entirely new product categories. Commercial adoption will depend on bringing down costs and further improving ruggedness through advances in materials, manufacturing and protective coatings. Flexible OLEDs will likely dominate folding/rollable applications. Flexible LCDs also have potential if challenges around weight, thickness and longevity are addressed. As technologies mature, expect versatile, seamless multi-format displays to enhance our digital experiences in novel ways in the coming decade.

 

 

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  1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
  2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it