The Next Big Thing
Flexible screens will bend your mindPhones, tablets and more that bend, flex, fold and roll are on the cusp of becoming real. But does that mean you'll want them?
Right along "Where is my flying car, it is where is my folding phone," right? We are back into another hot rumor season that we are just on the cuff supposedly of rollable, bendable, foldable electronics. Let's get out in front of the hype and see what is really out there. First of all, some terminology. Foldable and flexible kind of mean two different things. Flexible typically means a display that can be flexed in manufacturing, and hold that shape. Look at something like edges of a Galaxy Edge phone, or even an Apple Watch. It's not a perfectly flat display, but it doesn't move after it's manufactured. Then you've got foldable, and very clearly promises that you can take a piece of finished electronics And you can fold it many times, repeatedly, over the course of your ownership. That's dramatic stuff like some of the prototypes we've seen of recent rollable full-sized screens, or a Samsung prototype that would fold right down the middle by you doing it. And somewhere in the middle, we might want to categorize bendable. Look at something like an LG G Flex phone. Has a really significant amount of give, but it doesn't fold Or a Samsung television, that can go from flat to gradually curved upon command, but again, doesn't fold. Taken together as a continuum, these various forms are no longer niche. IHS research predicts that stretchable, rollable, foldable, or bendable displays, taken together will be 51% Of all displays shipping by the year 2020. Posting a compound annual growth rate of 58% from now till 2020. That means about a hundred and eighty million units a year by that year. And research firm IDTECH X projects the majority of those will go into phones, Followed by tablets, wearables, cars, and planes. But the real wow in the marketplace that will get consumers' attention aggregated is when we have electronics that can fold at an acute angle and then be used again in a different form factor when they're flat. Now the hurdles for all these manipulable screens and electronics are basically in three buckets. Repeatability, can the flexible part of the electronics do that many times and not break? Thinness. Most foldable design prototypes I've seen sacrifice thin for the folding part. And durability. Many of the new flexible displays I've seen get rid of a glass front and have one made of plastic instead. Now beyond those engineering hurdles, what are those use cases? In other words, what are you going to do with these things The idea of a phone that can be a very hand held size but then open up into something more&nbsp;immersive like a tablet, that seems to make some sense. We've also seen prototypes like what Lenovo's been showing where you've got a wrist wearable that can snap out into a rigid flat phone on demand. And once all of this use case and engineering stuff is settled the question is can it be done economically so we're not paying a premium for what could be seen as a gimmick. Something called roll-to-roll manufacturing is becoming very powerful in electronics manufacturing. And that could be a key way to get scale at low cost for these new flexible components. So a lot of hard and soft hurdles are lying out there for the world of flexible electronics and flexible displays in particular. But our seemingly limitless appetite for upholstering our lives in displays leaves the door open for some degree of success.