Samsung Joins the Flexible Display Wars

In early June, after I came back from the industries premier display conference known as SID, I shared in my PC Mag column some of the significant developments I saw there in flexible displays. The two major players who were very vocal about their breakthrough flexible displays were Visionox and BOE.

However, while I was at the show, I was told that Samsung was showing a new flexible display to some of their customers in closed-door meetings but was not sharing any info on this product publicly just yet. However, I was told to stay tuned.

Well, in late July 2018, Samsung officially pulled the covers off of their version of a flexible display and announced that it was targeted for use on smartphones but hinted that their flexible display could end up being used in other devices too. The devices they focused this new display for beyond smartphones include use in vehicles, portable gaming consoles, tablets and mobile military devices. The press release stated that it had received a special certification from UL and met the military specifications for durability and difficulty to break or crack.

My colleague at PC Mag, Matthew Humphries, wrote about this in a recent column and pointed out that “The new display is a combination of flexible OLED panel and strong plastic cover, with certification from Underwriters Laboratories backing up the unbreakable claim. It’s so strong, and no damage was visible after 26 drop tests from a height of 4 feet.”

Regarding new flexible displays, this is very encouraging. It suggests that we are getting closer to having mobile devices that can use flexible screens, which could mean many new innovative mobile devices over the next 2-5 years. Moreover, the competition between BOE, Visionox, Samsung and eventually LG will only keep all of them on their toes and push for superior flexibility and in turn, more innovative designs.

While I view their advancement in flexible displays as a positive, I am concerned with their decision to use plastic as a cover for this new display. Historically, plastic has not performed well given it is prone to scratches and does not deliver the clarity you get from glass covers. Motorola found this out when they used a plastic sheet in their Moto Z2 Force phones called Shatter-shield that was not well received. The replacement cover was cheap, but it was prone to scratches and peeling.

Also, Samsung used a plastic display on the Galaxy Active Tab 2, and the reviews were not the favorable due to scratching and problems with optical clarity.

Interestingly, also in late July, Corning invited a lot of analysts and media to their Sunnyvale, CA campus to launch Gorilla Glass 6. PC Mag was there to cover this launch and my colleague Michael Kan shared the details of the virtues of the new Gorilla Glass 6.

As he points out, Gorilla Glass 6 is twice as durable as Gorilla Glass 5 and has an extra level of armor that helps the glass survive repeated drops from higher heights. Corning says on average the new lens can withstand 15 falls at the height of 1 meter (3.2 feet). An even more impressive test we saw was a drop from about 8-9 feet in which the smartphone they dropped was # 55 from that particular smartphone.

At the event, Corning also pointed out that many smartphone vendors are also wrapping their phones in Gorilla Glass because more and more smartphones are adding multiple antennas and radio signals can easily penetrate glass, while these signals are often thwarted when trying to get through a plastic screen. That is why you most likely will never see a plastic cover on the back of any smartphone, where these radio signals emanate from.

While the scratch resistance is the same as Gorilla Glass 5, I was at the Gorilla Glass 5 launch and watched the repeated, and extensive scratch tests that were done at this event and saw how well it performed. I carry my iPhone X, with a Gorilla Glass screen, in my pocket along with a pocket knife, small pen, and my Apple EarPods and have zero scratches on my phone after ten months of use.

One odd bit from the Samsung flexible display press release is that while it touts the unbreakable nature of their new screen, they said nothing about its ability to withstand scratches. Also, they were even vague on the clarity factor that has always dogged plastic screens.
While they do emphasize a sturdy plastic cover that makes the flexible screen more durable, the issue of scratches and visual clarity needs to be seriously considered by any vendor who decides to use this particular flexible display.

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Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

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