Samsung displayed the world’s first curved TV at CES 2013. (Salvador Rodriguez / Los Angeles Times)
Fairmont Preparatory Academy

Flexible screens — a breakthrough in the electronics market

On September 6, 2019, Samsung revealed their first foldable phone, Galaxy Fold, to the public. While the phone embraces a number of technological marvels, what stunned the public the most was, as its name suggests, the foldable screen.

According to Samsung, the device uses a 7.3-inch flexible display that has been folded more than 200,000 times before release to test its durability. The dual screens can either work together to display a tablet-sized screen or function independently, watching Youtube on the left while reading a newsletter on the right, for instance.

While the public admitted the phone’s innovative approach to feature one of the first foldable screen technology, there still have been disputes whether the technology is pointless and unnecessarily expensive. 

So what are flexible displays? Are these really necessary for the advancement of smartphone technology? 

In short, flexible display technology is a type of electronic visual display intended to be used in areas such as e-books, smartphones and PCs. While its advent traces all the way back to 1974 when Nicholas K. Sheridon of PARC created the first e-paper, its public recognition has only begun around the 2016 China IT Summit, according to Android Authority. In the 2019 MWC, Samsung and Huawei revealed their first foldable phones to the market, further broadening the influence of the technology.  

The most crucial component of the flexible display system is the OLED technology, according to Business Insiders.

The OLED, unlike LCD, holds the light pixels on the screen itself, rather than projecting them on a glass screen from the inside. The flexible display technology makes use of this feature by replacing the glass screen with a malleable plastic screen. Affixing the OLED pixels on a flexible plastic screen thus enables the screen to be folded without altering the arrangements of the light pixels. 

The flexible display extends its impact beyond the smartphone market. Most notably, flexible displays are also an essential part of an electronic paper. According to Visionect, e-papers incorporate flexible displays and colored electronic ink capsules to display an image without any disturbance to our eyes. The flexible display enables the e-paper to be bent freely like an ordinary paper, further enhancing its convenience.

Technology also plays a significant role in curved OLED TVs. To encompass a comprehensive, panoramic view, LG and Samsung both revealed in CES 2013 that they have used a prototype of flexible display to implement the curvature of the screen. 

This burgeoning area of technology, however, still faces downsides.

According to Kristoffer Bonheur from Profolus, the thermal stress during flexible display’s manufacturing weakens its durability and display quality, such as the brightness and uniformity. It is also shock-sensitive and prone to wear and tear in the process of folding and unfolding. More importantly, it is highly costly, making it inaccessible to the general public. 

Despite its current shortcomings, the flexible display technology is still in its initial phase of development, and with improvements, it has great potential to be utilized in various aspects of our lives. As innovations do not come without failures, with constant efforts from scientists, it will be a matter of time until we find ourselves each holding a perfectly-functioning foldable smartphone.