Samsung's foldable phone could soon be a reality

September 21, 2018 by Ravi Silva, The Conversation
Credit: Samsung

We rarely see a truly remarkable new technology more than once a decade. After years of undelivered promises, such a technology looks finally set to enter the market: the flexible computer screen.

Imagine, a tablet you can fold up and put in your pocket, a smart watch whose strap is the screen, or a handbag that is also a monitor and keyboard. Nokia originally called this proposed technology "Morph" back in 2008 because of the plethora of applications it would make possible. Now it looks like it will become a reality.

After nearly two decades of work, Samsung is rumoured to be getting ready for the launch of the first flexible smartphone. The company's head of mobile recently said it was "time to deliver" such a phone, and that the development process for it was "nearly concluded".

But perhaps more significantly, the Samsung Display division of the company recently said it had developed an "unbreakable smartphone panel" that had passed rigorous safety testing. Even after being subjected to temperatures of 71˚C and -32˚C, and dropped from a height of 1.8 metres, the display showed no signs of damage and functioned normally.

This display is a flexible organic (OLED) panel made of an unbreakable surface with a plastic overlay window attached to it, making it simultaneously lightweight and tough as glass but a lot more robust. Manufacturers have yearned for many years to make displays with flexible, bendable properties and a paper-like feel with electronic functionality. If Samsung has truly found a way to protect a flexible OLED then it has solved a major technical challenge in removing the need for the glass screens used on most other displays today.

Glass was originally needed to actually stop displays from bending. Old-fashioned easily distorted when bent because the molecules in the liquid inside them would become misaligned. Today's OLED screens are based on a solid layer of light-emitting material that doesn't easily distort in this way. But glass is also used to protect the organic molecules in an OLED display from being degraded by water vapour and other gases that would shorten their lifespan. Until now, encapsulating displays in flexible plastic hasn't been enough to protect them.

Smartphone of the near future? Credit: Grzegorz Petrykowski/Shutterstock

A more advanced, better quality kind of screen known as a quantum dot light emitting diode (QLED) display can also be made flexible. These use nano-crystals to produce high-quality, pure and sharp monochromatic light. They convert the backlight into the pure basic colours without the use of filters. But encapsulating QLED displays is even harder than OLEDs and so are likely to take a lot longer to turn into a flexible product.

Increasing flexibility

Samsung's flexible OLED screen is likely to be have the most basic level of flexibility, with the ability to be bent and curved without distorting the display but not completely folded. The level of flexibility might be increased as the nanotechnology in the screens improves, as the nanowires used to carry electricity through the displays become more flexible at smaller diametres.

In the future we may eventually see rollable displays that can be rolled up like a scroll. The most advanced type of flexible screen will be one that can be folded or even crushed like a sheet of paper and still produce a seamless image. The newest and most exciting idea for creating these screens is to use new "auxtetic" materials, which become thicker as they are stretched rather than thinner.

These materials can absorb high energy impacts and are made of single molecules or crystals that can self-align once distorted. They are typically lightweight and would allow the creations of screens with hinge-like design features that can flex significantly.

In the meantime, appears that within a year we could be able to snuggle up in bed reading from a screen that we don't have to worry about damaging if we fall asleep on it. I, for one, can't wait to get my hands on this new tech.

Explore further: Apple supplier LG Display puts $1.8B into flexible displays

Related Stories

Apple supplier LG Display puts $1.8B into flexible displays

July 27, 2016

LG Display Co., a supplier of Apple's iPhone screens, said Wednesday that it will invest 1.99 trillion won ($1.75 billion) to produce flexible displays for smartphones, in a sign that more high-end smartphone makers may adopt ...

LG Display plans heavy investment in OLED plant

July 23, 2015

Apple's iPhone displays are linked to the South Korean company LG Display in a news report. The Telegraph said that LG Display has invested heavily in a flexible-screen production line.

LG unveils curved-screen smartphone

October 28, 2013

LG Electronics unveiled Monday a curved-screen smartphone, taking on rival Samsung in a niche market seen as a first step on the road to fully flexible products.

Recommended for you

Uber filed paperwork for IPO: report

December 8, 2018

Ride-share company Uber quietly filed paperwork this week for its initial public offering, the Wall Street Journal reported late Friday.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Sep 21, 2018
Don't put it in your pocket with your keys.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.