The hard truth about flexible screens

They won't bend.
Written by Mark Halper, Contributor

So you've been looking forward to rolling up your smartphone into your pocket, or to at least folding it in two, taking advantage of the new flexible screens that are on their way this year.

I'm sorry to disappoint, but you're going to have to wait at least three more years.

That's because the first bendy screens, due within months starting most likely with a 5-inch Samsung model based on organic light emitting diode technology (OLED), won't actually bend. That's according to market research firm IHS, which notes in a press release:

"Samsung’s initial product is likely to be a first-generation flexible display, employing a non-glass substrate that yields superior thinness and unbreakable ruggedness. However, such displays are flat and cannot be bent or rolled. Flexible displays are expected to eventually evolve into rollable and foldable OLED screens that are likely to be introduced after 2016."

IHS says that although the market for OLED screens will pick up with threefold growth next year, it will still only reach $94.8 million - a speck in the consumer electronics market.

OLEDs are materials that naturally emits light when excited by electricity. They are not as energy efficient as today's widely available LEDs, which are rudimentary semiconductors hailed as power savers.

In theory OLEDs will usher in brave new worlds of lighting, fashion, construction and architecture, as designers prescribe materials that are light sources. Rigid OLEDs are available today in a range of products including phones and large screen TVs. But as IHS notes, flexible OLEDs are not fully ready:

"This is because the plastic substrate, thin-film encapsulation and other related technologies for flexible OLED remain immature for immediate application. Moreover, manufacturing processes are still being tested."

That could help explain why, according to Ars Technica, the Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch won't have a flexible screen when Samsung introduces it on Sept. 4.

That will disappoint Gear heads who had been hoping for a bendable model. Sometimes, life is hard.

Photo of Samsung concept phone from Brian Carslon via Wikimedia

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This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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