Curved Displays and Flexible Displays – True Innovation or Innovation for the Sake of it?
LG Display announced mass production of flexible OLED panels for smartphones on 7 October 2013. Not to be outdone, Samsung Corp announced the mammoth 5.7” smartphone (Galaxy Round) with a curved display, available for sale in South Korea on 10 October.
Source: Samsung Corp
To take advantage of the curved display on the Galaxy Round, Samsung has introduced features like ‘roll effect’, which enables users to check information like time and missed calls and control music playback like next track when the screen is off. Sadly, Samsung did not manage to reduce the phone’s width compared with the Galaxy Note 3, which is equipped with a flat (conventional) 5.7” display.
Beyond staking a claim to producing the world’s first curved phone and some software enhancements, the Galaxy Round lacks practical or groundbreaking use cases to trigger a buying frenzy among consumers. In the good old days when consumers packed cinemas to watch movies, the screens were curved to ensure that the light from the projectors hit the screens at the same time to produce consistent images. With LCD and OLED displays, light is projected from the back of the screen and so a curved display has not been created to solve any real engineering problems.
The flexible OLED display from LG holds greater promise of true innovation which will revolutionise how consumers use their portable devices. Flexible displays could find their way onto automotive displays, tablets and wearable devices. The plastic substrates on the display panel make it bendable and virtually unbreakable. Flexible OLED allows devices to be made lighter
and thinner, which remains a key challenge for all electronics manufacturers. Consumers will pay a premium for a product that is robust, thin and light, as evidenced by the success of wafer-thin LED televisions and lightweight smartphones sporting large displays.
The devil is in the detail and the success of flexible display on electronic devices is largely dependent on how manufacturers study usage scenarios and design products suited for different use cases. The success of the execution is also pegged to the limitations of current components. LG is acutely aware of the limitations of current components and worked on bendable batteries to complement its flexible OLED display. As LG only announced the mass production of OLED displays, products utilising the new display technology will only hit the shelves in early 2014. It will be extremely interesting to see how manufacturers harness the strength of flexible OLED displays moving forward.
The pace of innovation in consumer electronics has been relentless and manufacturers have been in overdrive, pushing out new products and refreshing their product ranges within less than 12 months. Manufacturers are struggling to provide real innovations and are increasingly relying on superfluous features like air gesture on Samsung’s Galaxy S4, where a wave of the hand allows
the user to accept calls, change music and browse photos. Essentially, manufacturers are creating slightly improved iterations of their predecessors. Curved displays would appear to be innovation for the sake of it, whereas flexible displays have the potential to change how consumers use portable devices provided that manufacturers get their act together and harness the true potential of flexible displays rather than simply engage in a race to claim the first in the world.