MWC Shanghai 2016: Connected Cars Will Spearhead Commercialisation of Flexible Display

At the recently concluded Mobile World Congress in Shanghai which I was invited to attend, one of the key discussion points was the prospect of flexible displays in revolutionising electronics products.

LG Display Innovation in Flexible Displays

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Source: LG Corp

New business opportunities to kick-start lacklustre market

With the exception of wearable electronics, growth of other consumer electronics products is projected to slow considerably from 2015 to 2020. This can be partly attributed to saturation in hardware innovation. Going beyond minor upgrades, such as upgrades of processors in smartphones or higher screen resolution in televisions, flexible displays are garnering interest among consumers and manufacturers alike as the next wave of hardware innovation that has the potential to generate new business opportunities and use cases.

Flexible displays have the greatest potential in connected cars

The use cases of flexible displays in consumer electronics are limitless. The most compelling value proposition for flexible display is in passenger cars. While cars are getting bigger, much of the increase in interior space is diverted to meet consumers’ demand for comfort with more spacious seats, leg space and a less cluttered dashboard. With sales of passenger cars projected to reach 104 million units in 2030, these new cars are expected to be increasingly connected as the vehicle becomes a data depository. The challenge for manufacturers will be to find a balance between displaying all the relevant information to the driver while ensuring that the dashboard display does not become bulky and cluttered.

A flexible screen would come in handy in this situation due to its diverse uses. For instance, in the context of an autonomous car, the screen can be extended to hold conference calls, view media content or a map when the car is in self-driving mode. When the driver takes control of the steering wheel, the screen can be compressed to reflect essential information such as the speed or fuel level. When needed, it can be extended to display information such as traffic conditions and points of interest.

Potential Use Cases of Flexible Displays in Consumer Electronics

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Source: Euromonitor International

Significant hurdles to overcome

The development of flexible displays is supported by numerous companies, research institutes and industry associations, such as Samsung, LG, E Ink, FlexEnable, National Graphene Institute and the China Innovation Alliance of the Graphene Industry.

However, to date, development is still in its infancy as there are several teething issues to overcome. The two biggest challenges would be to produce it in a cost effective way and to ensure that it is touch-screen sensitive. In the first few iterations, manufacturers will also have to address the design issue of the product as not all components (battery, processor etc) in the electronic device will be flexible.

While research and development costs in this technology remain high, a slowdown in growth of consumer electronics and consumers’ growing expectations for innovation will require manufacturers to invest in new technological developments. They should look beyond the high upfront cost and the risk of failure to commercialise flexible displays in consumer electronics, particularly in connected cars which presents the greatest opportunity.