Flexible displays unlikely to hit markets in 2013
Alex Wolfgram, DIGITIMES, Taipei
Thursday 14 March 2013

Flexible OLED displays, which are bendable and extremely light and thin screens, are starting to be researched and developed more in depth. These paper-like devices are expected to be very energy-efficient and applied to many uses, making them one of the main focuses in the display industry for developing ultra-mobile devices in the future.

Since the introduction of YOUM, a flexible OLED display made by Samsung Mobile Display (SMD), at the 2013 CES in Las Vegas, Nevada, many analysts believe flexible OLED displays will first appear in smartphones made by Samsung Electronics in 2013 while others feel that date is still too premature. According to Digitimes Research, it is highly unlikely that OLED flexible displays will be readily available for the mass public in 2013, and that SMD will need until at least the middle of 2014 before it greatly improves mass production of the technology as well as lower its costs.

Samsung faces many challenges in producing the technology, including finding the right components are incorporated and ensuring their ability to withstand constant bending.

The biggest difference between devices that would use OLED flexible displays and ones that do not lies with the substrate material. Market observers believe that plastic substrates (which are transparent, have low costs and can be bent and rolled) will be the main substrate choice for panel makers in order to achieve those advantages. However, fabricating a flexible OLED display is very challenging. According to reports, Samsung is still using LTPS for its plastic based panels, and the production process for LTPS is too hot for the plastic substrate, causing it to melt. This means that Samsung still has a lot of work ahead, especially if it wants to make flexible displays that bend in more places than just at the corners and slightly in the middle.

There has also been very little news in terms of the development of other components that are needed for use in flexible displays. Having spoken with various supply chain resources, it has come to my attention that supply chains, whether they are semiconductor, backplane or substrate material providers, are struggling to create components that can withstand constant bending, flapping or whatever movement users can think to use with their devices. As of now, even if one component maker has a breakthrough in developing proper technology for the displays such as the substrate, it does not mean that other component makers will be able to do the same. These aspects, on top of the fact that component makers also face huge investments in pursuing further R&D to develop the technology, mean that flexible displays will most likely need more time before they arrive on the market, and that panel makers will have to work more and invest more in their supply chains in order to meet increasing demand as well as control costs.

Flexible displays hold a lot of potential in the market, but consumers are going to have to be even more flexible in terms of expecting when the technology will be readily available.

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