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Could flexible screens shape the future of mobile devices?

Flexible screens could be found in mobile devices in just a couple of years.
April 16, 2013

There have been a lot of changes made to our screens, as mobile phones have evolved through the years. From starting off as mono-tone screens that could only handle basic characters, they have now become advanced pieces of tech that run images and video in full colour and high-definition. But the next step up for screens doesn’t come in what they show but rather how they show it.

Changing shape

Screens have always been traditionally rectangular-shaped and even the latest smartphones have kept to these natural boundaries. But even the screens are looking to get a makeover with all sorts of shapes being trialled by companies to see what works best.

Korean giant Samsung has already shown what could be possible when it demonstrated a pull-out screen from the side of a phone at CES in January. Meanwhile, several teams at universities across the globe have also produced working flexible screens that can essentially be rolled out to extend the screen from a portable device.

Breaking the glass barrier

The key to creating the bendy screens is that manufacturers are using different materials to produce the screens that allow for more interactivity and fluidity whilst maintaining the high details needed to produce a quality picture. Traditional materials such as glass are being subbed for more flexible and lighter materials such as thin films of plastic which are more flexible but can still support electronic signals.

Another big reason for the growth of flexi-screens is the increased use of OLED rather than LCD to light the screen. As Reuters points out, OLEDs “don’t need backlighting, are brighter, offer a wider viewing angle and better color contrast – and can be printed onto a few layers.”

Flexible screens could be here in just a year or two. Image Credit: Flickr/jurvetson

Still not quite ready

Although the advancements and prototypes have shown what can be done, it will still be some time before we see flexible screens in any smartphones. After all, it can be quite costly to produce the flexible screens with the film layers tending to be more expensive to purchase rather than glass sheets. Furthermore, manufacturers would also need to change a lot of their equipment in order to produce the films on a wide scale driving production costs even higher which is not ideal given the current economic crisis.

There are also questions about the durability of flexible screens. The barrier films are much thinner and softer than glass which unfortunately means that the likelihood of the screen getting damaged is higher, especially when smartphones are being used more than ever nowadays.

Despite the concerns, flexible screens are still very much in the prototype stage and no doubt there will be many more demo models shown off to the world before they are built into our smartphones. Some people are touting that we could see the new displays as early as next year in mobile devices but with the costs involved still too high and many of the kinks yet to be ironed out, it might take a couple more years before we see them fully integrated into mobile phones.