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First foldable OLED smartphone displays to hit market this year

20 June 2018 David Hsieh

While the flexible AMOLED display market included equal volumes of flat and curved displays in 2017, foldable displays weren't expected to be in mass production until after a few years.

But with flexible displays making rapid inroads into the flagship smartphone display market, panel makers showed increasing willingness to supply differentiated products. Innovative form factors would then help to boost profit margins from the sale of premium products.

Now fast forward to this year, and it appears that the first smartphones with foldable AMOLED displays are expected to be introduced before the end of the year.

Foldable displays can be tightly folded at 180 degrees on top of itself. Samsung Display, which has demonstrated single- and dual-foldable AMOLED displays since 2013, will be mass-producing its first foldable AMOLED displays for Samsung Electronics later this year.

Similarly, China's BOE has developed a prototype of a 7.56-inch 2048x1536-ppi foldable AMOLED display with a 5-millimeter bending radius, which reliably bends 100,000 times without breaking. BOE is looking to supply foldable AMOLED displays to Huawei this year.

Meanwhile, AUO from Taiwan has developed a 5-inch 1280x720-ppi AMOLED display, with a 4-millimeter bi-directional bending radius. The company says it will bend more than 1.5 million times without breaking. It includes an integrated touch sensor and 4H cover film.

At present, smartphone brands are focused on increasing display size and ratio to maximize smartphone usability. The new foldable displays will be used primarily in larger-sized premium mobile devices, with transformable displays that combine the usability of smartphones and tablets. One barrier to consumer adoption, however, could be the higher prices involved because of a more intricate production process.

For their part, smartphone brands and OEMs may also have to contend with the vagaries of an innovative design they're peddling when it comes to stimulating end-user purchase and replacement.

The most possible scenario is a big-screen foldable portable device to replace tablet PCs and notebook PCs while still carrying the phone function. Numerous PC makers are already drafting ideas on the drawing board for a foldable clamshell but a switchable device, with one piece of the flexible OLED panel to enlarge the mechanism performed in the screen, such as a virtual keyboard, long-portrait document viewing, and multiple-windows website browsing.

There are many different form factors for foldable displays, designated by terms such as in-folding, out-folding, two-dimensional folding with a G or Z shape, and so on. The chart shows our forecast for flexible OLED shipments forecast by form factor, analyzed in the IHS Markit AMOLED & Flexible Display Intelligence Service.

David Hsieh is Research & Analysis Director within the IHS Technology Group at IHS Markit
Posted 20 June 2018


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