With growing interest in smartphones with foldable screens, leading display manufacturers such as Samsung and LG are putting a spur to the development of foldable displays. It is expected that a smartphone with this panel will be released as early as next year.
It is Samsung that started competition for the development of foldable displays. Earlier in September, Ko Dong-jin, president of Samsung's IM Division said, "We aim to launch a foldable smartphone next year."
Industry analysts that smartphone makers have actively participated in product development since president Ko’s remark. It is highly likely that Samsung will name the foldable smartphone to be launched next year “Galaxy X.”
In the display industry, it is said that Samsung Display has developed a foldable panel with a curvature of 1.0R. The curvature of 1.0R means that the panel can be completely folded inward like paper.
However, there are many divided opinions about display materials. So far, a dominant opinion is that a plastic material will be used. The industry believes that Samsung has chosen a method to process a panel's junctions separately to make the panel slim, thereby adding flexibility to a display itself.
"Samsung has applied for a number of technology patents for foldable smartphones in order to preempt the foldable display market," said an official of the industry. "But as the product is not officially released, it will be vital to the success of the product how much related technology is applied.”
Another reason why Samsung is concentrating on product development is that LG, one of the two leading display companies with Samsung Display, is spurring the development of a foldable display with the aim of preempting the foldable display market.
LG Display's foldable display became a big issue when it was recently known that Apple filed a patent for a foldable smartphone. Apple released a new foldable iPhone image in the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) on November 23 (local time) and LG Display is likely to supply foldable displays to Apple.
Apple is said to have assembled a Task Force (TF) team to develop a foldable OLED screen with LG Display in order to launch a foldable product in 2020.
According to the USPTO, the patent filed by Apple is a foldable smartphone with two screens connected to a hinge. The foldable smartphone can spread like a book and can be folded based on the central axis. Liquid crystal displays (LCDs), OLEDs and LEDs could be applied to the product, Apple said.
Particularly noteworthy is the fact that the next foldable iPhone will be loaded with a micro LED for the first time. Micro LEDs that attach LEDs to substrates in the micro unit can be bent or stretched depending on substrates.
LG Display is planning to develop a foldable panel with a target curvature of 2.5R by the end of this year. The company aims to develop a foldable panel with a curvature of 2.5R by next year and one with a curvature of the 1.0R level by 2019.
The display industry is forecasting that a foldable smartphone will be commercialized in a year or two.
According to market researcher Strategy Analytics (SA), foldable displays will first appear on small and medium-sized displays mostly for mobile devices. SA also expects foldable phones will account for more than one percent of global smartphone sales in 2021.