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Samsung's Bendy, Twisty Screen May Be Leaving Prototype Limbo

Samsung's Bendy, Twisty Screen May Be Leaving Prototype Limbo

Samsung is close to rolling out devices with flexible OLED screens. The company showed off a prototype at CES 2013 on Thursday. Flexible screens "will have an advantage for wearable tech, military uses or anything that needs to survive being bent or shocked," said analyst Rob Enderle. "Also for creative designs like being able to wrap digital signage around something."

By Richard Adhikari
01/11/13 7:00 AM PT

Samsung this week displayed prototypes of its Youm line of flexible, virtually unbreakable organic light-emitting diode displays at the 2013 CES being held in Las Vegas.

At CES, Samsung showed off a small tablet-like device with a wraparound flexible screen. This increased the amount of screen available for content, which will be able to flow along the sides of the device. The company also showed a video of concept products, including a device that could be used as a smartphone but could be opened up to form a tablet with twice the smartphone's screen size.

Microsoft also reportedly showed off a Windows Phone featuring the Youm screen at CES.

The Long, Hard Road to Youm

Production issues reportedly forced Samsung to put back its plans for Youm, after it demoed a phone with a flexible OLED screen at CES 2012.

Samsung was apparently switching to laser-induced thermal imaging to produce higher-resolution AMOLED screens than it could with the fine metal mask method it's currently using, according to Phonearena.

Further, there's the question of encapsulation. The materials in OLEDs degrade when exposed to air and moisture, so they must be encapsulated. Currently, screen manufacturers are using glass, but "you have to use some plastic substrate if you want to make the screen unbreakable," Vinita Jakhanwal, research director at IHS iSuppli, told TechNewsWorld.

Plastic scratches more easily than glass, and this too is an issue that must be resolved

"At CES and other shows I've been to, manufacturers have been showing and working with very hard plastic, but these haven't come to market yet for various reasons," Jakhanwal remarked.

Samsung declined to comment for this story.

It Isn't Easy Being Bendy

"Samsung and other companies have been showing flexible screens for over a decade in one form or another, but getting them to volume has been problematic," Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, commented.

"The difficulty isn't making the screen work, it's making it work well," Enderle told TechNewsWorld. "These screens break after being folded a few times but consumer products need to be able to last through thousands of times of being folded."

Getting a device with a flexible screen to market may take a while yet.

"I don't think anybody is ready for a flexible display mobile device to be launched or a device to be shown on the market to be held in the consumer's hand in the near future," IHS's Jakhanwal commented.

Other Players

Panasonic, Sony and HP are among the companies that have been working on flexible displays for several years.

In May 2010, Sony demoed a 4.1-inch flexible screen, while Nokia demoed a flexible phone with an OLED screen last year.

Meanwhile, Samsung archrival LG Display has won a contract from the Korean government to develop a 60-inch flexible OLED display, according to the Korea Herald.

Apple last year reportedly received a patent for a flexible display.

C'mon, Baby Let's Do The Twist

Flexible screens "will have an advantage for wearable tech, military uses or anything that needs to survive being bent or shocked," Enderle said. "Also for creative designs like being able to wrap digital signage around something."

HP offers flexible screens for military use, Enderle said. Other potential applications would be in smart watches, dashboards, digital displays and embedding in traditional magazines and newspapers.

Some products that feature flexible screens are being sold in small volumes today, Enderle stated.

Manufacturers must make the technology more robust, improve yields and ensure it works better outdoors before devices with flexible technology can really take off in the market, Enderle said.


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