Posted : 2012-05-13 15:07
Updated : 2012-05-13 15:07

Future iPhones may bend, twist

Seen above is an image of a prototype flexible organic light emitting diode (OLED) display developed by Samsung Mobile Display. / Korea Times file

By Kim Yoo-chul

Future versions of Apple’s iPhone, the definitive mobile device credited for taking the Internet beyond the personal computer, might bend and twist.

At least that seemed to be what Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Kwon Oh-hyun was hinting at when he revealed that the company is getting ``huge’’ orders from electronics makers for it futuristic lineup of flexible organic light emitting diode (OLED) displays.

Samsung, which enjoys a dual strength in parts and finished products, has found Apple to be an odd bedfellow, as one of its biggest customers for screens and memory chips but also a hated foe in smartphones and touch-screen tablets.

Samsung is eager to push open an era of bendy phones and boasts a capability to mass produce OLED displays that bend from the middle or from around the edge.

The notoriously secretive Apple remains tight lipped about how its future iPhones will look and it’s hard to imagine that its next smartphone, which may or may not be named the iPhone 5, having a rubbery screen.

But for iPhones after that, who knows? While Kwon didn’t give out any names, industry sources here believe that Apple is likely to beone of the handset makers asking Samsung to provide them flexible screens. This makes it hard to rule out the possibility that an iPhone “Yoga” could appear sometine in the future, they said.

Apple has been one of Samsung’s biggest customers for small-sized liquid crystal display (LCD) screens used for mobile devices. It bought nearly $8 billion worth of Samsung’s LCDs and chips last year and is expected to buy $11 billion worth of parts this year.

The handset industry appears to be preparing for a transition from LCD to OLED screens, which provide brighter and sharper pictures on less power consumption.

Samsung already uses OLED screens for its Galaxy lineup of smartphones and touch-screen tablets. Nokia and LG Electronics are also in the midst of an OLED transition for their mobile devices.

Samsung recently dedicated a number of lines at its factory in Tangjeong, South Chungcheong Province, for the production of flexible OLED displays. The line will pump out 960,000 OLED sheets by the end of the year.

``We will be mass producing flexible OLED displays from the latter half of this year as the demand from our clients is significant,’’ said Kwon, who calls the shots in Samsung’s parts business.

``OLEDs will replace LCDs as the main mobile displays from around 2015 as the screens are thinner and brighter. Samsung has massively invested in OLED-related technologies and will continue to do so.’’

A Samsung spokesman declined to talk in detail about the plans for flexible OLED screens and how Apple fits into the picture.

However, another industry official said that Samsung wouldn’t be this bullish about flexible OLED screens if Apple wasn’t sharing its enthusiasm.

``Apple is the iconic company in the industry that will continue to set the trends. If Samsung finds increasing industry demand for a futuristic product like flexible displays, it’s hard to imagine Apple doesn’t have something to do with it,’’ said an analyst from a U.S.-based investment bank.

Samsung won’t be the only player with flexible OLED displays. Cross-town rival LG Display is also planning to deliver flexible mobile displays of its own, which will first be used in the products of LG Electronics.

``The undeniable advantage is that flexible OLED displays are more durable,’’ said an executive from Samsung Display.

Flexible display screens, however, have a long way to go, said Lux Research, a market research firm. They are exciting for their ability to enable new form factors and create more robust versions of existing devices.

``However, enabling technologies like barrier films are not mature enough and flexible displays will remain a modest $140 million market in 2017. While OLEDs can be made flexible, they suffer from materials and manufacturing challenges and will have only a 15 percent share of the flexible display market,’’ said the research firm.
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