Report: flexible glass display products still three years away

Customers still figuring how to handle spools of glass rather than sheets.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Products that use the flexible displays touted as a candidate screen for the rumoured Apple iWatch could still be years away.

Corning, the maker of Gorilla Glass displays used in the iPhone and other smart devices, showed off its 0.1 mm thick Willow Glass flexible displays at this year's CES conference. 

While the roll up glass material exists, the main obstacle to it landing in consumer products like an iWatch, or more generally, smartphones, is a manufacturing one.

Customers are still being educated on how to handle spools of glass in manufacturing rather than the current sheet-to-sheet process for glass, according to a senior Corning executive.

"People are not accustomed to glass you roll up," James Clappin, president of Corning Glass Technologies said in an interview with Bloomberg. "The ability of people to take it and use it to make a product is limited." 

Corning launched Willow Glass last June, promising a new material, but also more efficient manufacturing methods due to the ability to roll it up on spools. Applications included portable electronics, solar cells and lighting. 

Clappin said the glass may appear in some consumer products this year, but that could include as lighter weight backplanes, colour filters and protectors for OLED and LCD displays.

The manufacturing challenges Clappin outlined may put a dampener on expectations for Apple's rumoured iWatch, at least if it relies on flexible rather than rigid curved glass, which were both outlined as options in a recent patent filing

While Google is developing its Google Glass project in the public, Apple characteristically is keeping its plans under tight wraps. In an effort to quell investor fears over Apple's falling share price, Apple CEO Tim Cook this week told investors that Apple was eyeing "new categories", but the immediate candidate here is an Apple TV.  

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