Everyone’s calling them the next big thing – or at least the flex big thing (see what we did there?), but what’s the deal with flexible screens? Are they going to revolutionise mobile phones like the iPhone did way back in 2007?
A… flexible screen?
Yeah, you know – a screen that will bend and flex – without giving you a massive repair bill at the end of it. They’re going to be in-thing in the next few years.
Oh, like that Samsung that was announced the other day?
Sort of – that’s the Galaxy Round – which at the moment is only heading to South Korea. It’s really interesting as it’s the first consumer phone with a curved screen. You can’t actually bend it around yourself – it’s been pre-curved in the factory to wrap around some glass. But is based on the same sort of technology.
It does show where this sort of technology could go in the future though. Perhaps not in phones – but the other screens we see everywhere will no longer be confined to flat spaces – perhaps the screens in airline seats, car dashboards and smart watches.
So properly flexible? How does that work, then?
The Samsung Geeks explain it nicely:
“Traditional AMOLED screens use organic compounds which create their own light source when a current is passed through them. As the OLED pixels create their own light source, they don’t need a back light like LCD screen technology, but the circuitry to control the pixels is fused into glass. Flexible displays simply replace the layers of glass with layers of (flexible) plastic film, allowing for them to be bent and flexed without breaking anything.”
I’m sceptical – how flexible are we talking?
Check out this video of a Samsung announcement from CES earlier this year. Skip to 4:20 and watch as you involuntarily brace for a shattering when the man on screen starts bending the phone – because you’re just not used to seeing something work like that. It’s pretty jaw-dropping.
Yikes – so when will my phone be able to do that?
It’s still a work in progress, though Samsung and fellow South Korean giants LG are locked into something of a flexible screen arms race at the moment, with both showing off prototypes that are basically small black boxes with a big flexible screen poking out the top.
So will my dog be able to fetch my rolled-up phone like it were a newspaper?
Not quite – the technology isn’t there quite yet, as some spoil sports like to point out. Apparently the screens can’t bend too much, because of the electronics behind them – which have a harder time with being deformed than the AMOLED LEDs.
So when can I get one?
Patience is a virtue, as they say. Given the Galaxy Round is just launching in South Korea, and that’s half way there, that’s a good sign – I’d say about this time next year we’ll start to see the first truly flexible screens. And who knows where we’ll be with the prototypes.
By James O'Malley | October 10th, 2013