Flexible, foldable smartphones screens beckon

The conventional liquid crystal display (LCD) screens for smartphones could soon be replaced by screens comprised of nanoparticles, which can be bended, folded, and even rolled up.

How a Windows Phone would look using Samsung's flexible OLED display. (Credit: James Martin/CNET)

A report by DisplaySearch states screen technology and specifically the global small display market is seen more than doubling to around US$72 billion by 2016.

The display market is dominated by LCDs which require a backlight and sit between two sheets of glass, making the screen a major contributor to the weight of a device, from laptops to tablets. However, LCD's dominance is already under threat from lighter Organic Light Emitting Diodes (OLEDs) that do not need backlighting, are brighter, offer a wider viewing angle and better color contrast, and can be printed onto a few layers. 

Furthermore, Corning's Gorilla glass , already a popular choice amongst manufacturers for smartphones, such as the Apple iPhone, is now introducing Willow, which is as thin as a sheet of paper and is flexible enough to be wrapped around a device or structure. Willow can also be produced more efficiently with roll-to-roll manufacturing, such as a printing press, versus current batch manufacturing processes.

That being said, glass has its limits. That is, it can't be flexed indefinitely. Hence, screens would need to be plastic to be bent, folded, and rolled . Interestingly, when OLED and plastic are laid down together they create another manufacturing problem: leaks. Nanoparticles are required to plug holes and prevent the various layers from leaking oxygen and moisture. 

Another manufacturing issue is that all materials in a bendable display need to be bendable. This includes the transparent conductors that drive current through the display. Advancements in nanotechnology are being made to replace the Indium Tin Oxide (ITO) used in most fixed displays include conductive mesh, carbon nanotubes, grapheme, and nanowires. 

One of the practical uses for having these new types of screens is for gaming.

The display for the user would be a whole new experience, especially if used in conjunction with 3D holographic technology. Another practical use would be having multiple windows opened and viewable on these screens, that is, multi-tasking between windows. Currently, this feature isn't implemented efficiently with today's smartphones.