The Rise of Foldable Screens for Mobiles and PCs
Display technology has come a long way since its inception on mobile phones and PCs. We’ve had capacitive touchscreens all the way up to IPS LCDs and super AMOLED variants. However, a new trend is gaining ground, not in primary usage but in form factor.
We’re not talking about the cool curved screens that Samsung phones have had for a while. Instead, we refer to foldable technology. It has allowed phone manufacturers to squeeze more screen estate into a portable form factor.
What makes a screen foldable, and why are brands pushing it into their device lineups? Let’s explore the trend and touch on crucial information about this technology. Who knows? It might replace the flat and straight screens of today.
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Foldable Displays Today
We should take stock of the strides before looking beneath this technology’s fancy surface. That will give us a more inclusive view of it.
These days, we use our smartphones for many things, including playing games like online poker, sending emails, making phone calls, and so on. These interactions take place through the touchscreen. However, there is a limit to how large a screen should fit into the hand. Foldables offer larger screens when unfolded and portable devices when folded. Hence, the recent surge in technology as brands push to provide more screen estate without compromising portability.
Phone or PC Software will lay dormant until you have a display to interact with it. Today, smartphones rule the day as our primary devices, and statistics reveal over 6 billion smartphone users in the world. The number is projected to grow by millions in the coming years.
Foldable at CES 2023
Samsung, a leader in the global display market worth $168.8 billion in 2022, wasted no time showcasing its latest foldable. Showcased on their stand were the Flex Note, the Flex In N Out, the Flex G, and the Flex S. Although some were in familiar territory, others completely blew our imaginations away.
The Flex S was of particular interest because of its tri-fold form factor. It ends up with one usable outer screen when completely folded. On the other hand, it opens up to a much wider display when completely unfolded.
Switching to the Flex In N Out brought in more flavor. The commercially available foldable smartphone lineups only fold in one direction. However, the Flex In N Out folds both ways.
That implementation eliminates the need for a third display, as seen on the Samsung Galaxy Folds. We might see a reduction in bulk if the display giant implements this technology.
Samsung wasn’t the only brand to have all the fun at CES 2023. LG and Lenovo jumped into the challenge with some spine-tingling advances. On the one hand, we have the LG foldable laptop with zero creases, and on the other, Lenovo’s foldable laptop implementation.
LG also debuted a two-fold display, similar to Samsung’s Flex In N Out. CES 2023 was packed, but it might take a while before the technology displayed trickles down to commercial use.
Foldable Technology: The Secret Spice
First, you should know that all displays, whether foldable, rollable, or flat, work the same way. They combine millions of color specks to create an image. However, different technologies can achieve this, including LCD, OLED, AMOLED, etc.
We need to go to the very layer where these color specks sit, the substrate. For years, this thin sheet of glass only had so much flex before breaking. It was and still is, rigid and fragile.
In the last decade, manufacturers developed flexible plastics as display substrates. These plastics can bend without breaking, unlike glass. Samsung used this technology on its Galaxy Note Edge device.
As evolution is intricate to man’s existence, manufacturers have developed displays with enough flex to allow complete folds. You can call it a breakthrough in display technology.
OLEDs can be 30% thinner and lighter than LCDs. As a result, they are the first choice for a foldable display. Their thinness allows for manufacturing less bulky and more efficient foldable screens.
Foldable OLEDs have four layers laminated together. They are as follows:
- The substrate: This layer forms the base and is made of plastic. Popular materials include polyimide (PI) and polymer plastic. Manufacturers pick them for thermal stability and mechanical strength.
- The TFT: This layer is responsible for powering the pixels individually. It stays on top of the substrate.
- OLED: This layer carries the pixels with RGB subpixels (red, green, and blue). The pixels produce colors and luminosity depending on how much power the subpixels receive. Then, they combine to form the images that we interact with.
- Cover: At the very top is the protective layer. Ultra-thin glass is the latest material to be used for this layer.
Problems with Foldable Displays
This breakthrough in display technology still leaves many things to be desired. The most noticeable is the crease visible to the eyes and felt when touched. Although they do not interfere with function, they are not visually appealing.
We also have the issue of air gaps that allow dust and water to pass through the screens. Manufacturers like Huawei have made visible progress in this regard. Nevertheless, we have yet to have a perfect fold without air gaps.
The most significant problem with foldable displays is software adaptation. Our current operating systems and applications on mobile phones and PCs are adapted to flat displays. Optimizing them to adjust to a foldable screen is not a day job.
The most apparent advantage foldable displays give us today is a portable device with a large screen. Many people would prefer to buy a smartphone and tablet separately instead of opting for foldable devices. Still, technology giants like Samsung, LG, and Huawei continue to implement this new form factor.
Foldable technology is not perfect, but we have seen notable improvements. The creases have become less visible and annoying, and the durability has improved. Also, CES 2023 showed us what to expect in the coming years.