[NEWS] Samsung Preps Foldable Screens For 2012
Samsung is using its plastic-backed AMOLED devices to make phones that are lighter, thinner and include “foldable screens,” according to Richard Windsor, a senior technology analyst at Nomura Group.
Nomura’s analysts in Asia have said they expect to see Samsung “apply plastic substrate-based, bendable or curved displays for smartphones from [the second quarter of] 2012,” and cite equipment manufacturers in Korea as their sources.
The analysts added in a recent note that the first example of this technology would not be in a smartphone screen that folded in half (though that may come later in 2013 in a clam-shell like device), but in a screen that folded over the edges of a phone, replacing the usual screen border or “bezel” so that the display continued onto the sides (see image above). The display would be “unbreakable and increases the exceptionally slim form-factor,” they said.
“We expect Samsung to mass produce such panels for smartphones in 2012, which we believe would be more popular that the current OLED display equipped in SEC’s Galaxy S II,” Nomura’s analysts said, adding that the use of film-coating technology and tempered plastic would reduce the weight of Samsung’s tablet computers by 30%.
“Plastic displays will change the perception of handsets and tablet PCs in terms of design, thickness, and weight, and this would clearly differentiate Samsung’s products from others, in our view,” said the analysts. “This is why we like Samsung.”
This isn’t the first talk of foldable screens from Samsung. Last year rumors swirled that Samsung was working on a bendable phone called the Galaxy Skin, to be released in the second quarter of 2012. Samsung has denied the product exists; the images of the branded prototype came from a design student’s conceptual project.
However Samsung has said publicly that it is working on “next-generation technologies such as foldable, flexible and transparent displays.” And already a year ago at the Consumer Electronics Show 2011, it showed off bendable AMOLED screens that were 0.3mm thick and 4.5 inches across. Later in May, it was reported that researchers from the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology had built a prototype display that folded in the middle without a crease.
Samsung, which makes the screens for Apple’s iPhone, is the industry specialist in AMOLED screens, which show brighter colors, darker blacks and use less battery power than traditional LED screens.
The introduction of folding screens could put pressure on Apple, which Nomura’s Windsor said had “fallen behind somewhat” in the hardware race. Last year many industry watchers expected Apple’s iPhone 4S to take on a new teardrop-like shape, but the company instead launched a phone with the same squarish shape of the iPhone 4, adding processor power and software features like Siri.
Apple “may in all likelihood make a significant upgrade to its hardware sometime during the second half of 2012,” Windsor added.
Right now, Samsung is still struggling to beat the dominance of Apple’s iPad in tablets, partly because the Google-Android operating system its tablets run on do not have the same kind of one-stop shop for content (movies, music and TV shows) as iTunes, a big appeal for tablets users. But Samsung is widely thought of as Apple’s biggest challenger when it comes to making innovative, Android-run smartphones. Here content is not as big a deal, and here Samsung can capitalize on its big specialty: screen technology.
Makers of TVs, monitors and smartphones are increasingly transitioning from LCD (liquid crystal displays) to the brighter OLED (organic light-emitting diodes), which are plastic-based, bendable, lightweight and very hard to break. Samsung’s Mobile Display unit dominates here, with an 85% share in the AMOLED market, according to Nomura, with LG Display taking 15%. (Samsung claimed in 2010 to have 98% of the AMOLED market, incidentally.)
On top of this, Samsung is not shy of introducing completely new form factors. Its Galaxy Note, for example, is a 5.3-inch smartphone that’s been understandably mocked for its large size, but still represents innovative hardware. It is one of the first to significantly explore what people are calling the “phablet” space, a cross between a phone and a tablet. Samsung has sold 2 million units since October and says it can shift another 10 million by the end of 2012.
When asked about foldable displays, a spokesman for Samsung in South Korea said, “We cannot comment on future line-ups.”
The reference to “future line-ups,” however, rather than a straight-up “no comment,” suggests Samsung may indeed have something foldable up its sleeve for later this year.