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A Glimpse of the Emerging Era of Foldable Displays

Enterprise Technology Review | Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Science fiction will soon be turning into reality as the market is all set to experience an influx of flexible display technologies.  

FREMONT, CA: The flexible display technology market is expected to grow at a very high pace in the upcoming years according to a market research document published by Stats and Reports. High-end electronics and smartphone brands are all set to develop and adopt the technology to cash-in with the trend. Flexible displays are going to make an appearance in smartphones, tablets, televisions, and smart wearables. Flexible display will be the next big leap for the highly competitive display technology market. The concept has been in the development pipeline for some time now, and according to experts, it is ready to make its commercial appearance.

Foldable smartphones are mostly designed in a way that enables two distinct modes of display. When folded, the device is the size of a smartphone, which, upon unfolding, expands to become a tablet. This flexibility is one of the most attractive features. Additionally, devices endowed with a new and edgy look with foldable screens. It is a better alternative when compared with glass-based displays as it allows appliances to have lesser display thickness, thus making devices lightweight. Unlike conventional screens, flexible displays are built on a plastic base, which makes it shatter-proof. Lower power consumption is another important point. Forecasts point to the fact that the mainstream adoption of the foldable display will be fueled by improved quality of viewing and sleek, innovative designs. The bezels associated with smartphones today will soon become a thing of the past.

The two flexible display technologies that are currently available include Organic Light-Emitting Diode (OLED) and Organic Liquid Crystal Display (OLCD). OLED has been in production since 2012 and has been incorporated into the flexible display models which are about to be launched soon. OLED has already seen an application in television and monitor screens that are manufactured with curved displays, enabling better viewing experiences and immersive experience. Consumers do not have a folding facility in this class of displays. The newer version which will make devices foldable for the end-users will make use of Foldable OLED (FOLED), wherein the diodes are built on non-rigid substrates which could be plastic or metals. The materials are durable and can conform to various shapes with bending and rolling.

FOLEDs are all set to revolutionize display in a way that no other technology has been able to do. It will help make devices that can be compacted and expanded by rolling or folding and stretching, respectively. The current manufacturing techniques used in FOLED production will evolve gradually, and then one can expect the prices for this display technology to come down substantially. Once deployed in gadgets, FOLED can have implications that seem futuristic. One can look forward to smartphones that can be rolled into the shape of a pen or display of entertainment units that can be folded and carried easily.

OLED displays are more suitable in the case of smaller screens, like that of smartphones. It has high pixel-density, enabling high resolution and definition. Lesser brightness can improve the longevity of OLED displays. Hence, use in smartphones is more appropriate, rather than in displays that require continued usage at high brightness levels.

OLCD use organic thin-film transistors instead of silicon-based ones. With OLCD, smartphones and other devices can have bezel-less displays which make devices look sleeker and attractive. This is possible because of the development of a technique which enables borders to be folded behind the screens. Thus, devices can eliminate edges, thereby making display sizes bigger. While OLED and FOLED are more suitable for smaller display units, OLCD is versatile and is applicable for larger screens also. Be it entertainment systems at home, or dashboard displays in cars, or digital signboards, OLCD is applicable everywhere. Even in case of the brightness factors, OLCD scores over OLCD as it is delivers good luminescence without any repercussions on the display life-cycle.

The manufacturing process of OLCD is optimized and less costly because of the use of organic transistors instead of silicon ones. With organic transistors manufacturing, the range of temperature is significantly lower when compared to that of silicon transistors. Also, silicon-based transistors require polyimide films as substrates, which are costly. For organic transistors, makers use tri acetyl cellulose films as substrate, which are cheaper than polyimide films.

The flexible display space is replete with opportunities that phone and electronic device makers can leverage. To keep the gadgets feasible, along with the development of flexible screens, manufacturers are also developing innovative ways of incorporating the driving mechanism, software, and other basic features simultaneously. Leading companies have come up with ways of integrating camera features into flexible smartphones by using technologies such as laser-enabled hole-punching.

Most of the global technology conferences have reported a lot of discussions on flexible displays. Leading players are enthusiastic about the emerging field and are proactively working towards introducing a commercially viable range of products with flexible screens at the earliest. The technology is expected to find a lot of takers because of the desirable features and significant advantages that it brings to device-users. Major smartphone brands have already announced their upcoming models that will possess foldable displays, while some have released single models that have created a lot of buzzes.

The next few years could mark the introduction of flexible screens across many devices. Starting from the premium models, the technology will gradually make its way into economical versions as well.