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Flexible Displays – What are they and How do they work?

Over the past year or so there has been a lot of excitement about the release of flexible displays. The mass production of flexible screens is greatly anticipated, in part because of their purported indestructible qualities – but mostly because they guarantee, bona fide, that we are living in the future we imagined as children. In this article, we take a look at flexible screens and displays and give an overview of how they work.

What is a flexible display?

If you haven’t worked it out already, flexible displays are displays which are fully bendable. Samsung announced their line of flexible screens in early 2012, branding them “YOUM” and snapping up other trademarks like FAMOLED (flexible active matrix organic light emitting diode). As Samsung is the world’s largest manufacturer of OLED displays, we expect them to be one of the major players in bringing flexible displays to the market. It’s a very exciting development in screen technology which has a huge number of advantages and extremely cool uses!

How do Flexible Displays work?

Flexible Displays - Diagram - How do they work - SamsungGeeks

The biggest problem getting in the way of making screens flexible was glass. Glass doesn’t bend, it’s thick, heavy and breaks easily. Flexible displays rely largely on existing display technology, known as an OLED (organic light emitting diode) or AMOLED (active matrix light emitting diode) screen.

Traditional AMOLED screens use organic compounds which create their own light source when a current is passed through them. As the OLED pixels create their own light source, they don’t need a back light like LCD screen technology, but the circuitry to control the pixels is fused into glass. Flexible displays simply replace the layers of glass with layers of (flexible) plastic film, allowing for them to be bent and flexed without breaking anything.

Looking to “Corning”, the manufacturers of Gorilla Glass, we can see that a flexible protective glass coating for flexible displays isn’t completely out of the question. Their product Willow Glass will allow for the easy protection of flexible displays.

This is quite a ‘high-level’ description of how flexible OLED displays work. If you’d like some more detailed information (or would like to write an article for us!) then get in touch!

What are the advantages of Flexible displays?

We already have great screen technology – 1080p LCD and AMOLED screens under 5” with a pixel density only a microscope could see. Does it need to be any better than this? Do we need a flexible screen?

Well – no, we don’t really need one. But there are several reasons why we might want one. It turns out that not using glass is a huge advantage.

  1. Slimness: With no need for bulky glass, flexible displays are significantly slimmer, allowing for the thinnest displays we’ve ever seen.
  2. Weight: Without glass, flexible displays are significantly lighter.
  3. Durability: With no glass to shatter, flexible displays are pretty much invincible to the normal drops and bumps we inflict on our prized devices (see video below).
  4. In the long-term – they should be cheaper. Maybe not to produce… but the relative thinness and lightness of flexible displays means more of them can fit into one shipping container. That means they should be cheaper to ship, and (*in theory*) cheaper to buy.

What are the disadvantages of Flexible displays?

Although we cited “durability” as one of the advantages of FAMOLED displays, it could also be one if the technology’s downfalls. With ~4 layers of components and a protective casing bending around we are likely to see some wear and tear after a while. One of the advantages of using glass to encapsulate the thin-film-transistor and other technology is that it keeps the circuitry safe from moisture and anything else which might sneak in unwanted – plastic certainly isn’t as good at keeping out moisture as glass is, especially if faults start to appear after excessive folding. This is what we believe has been stopping the technology from being announced until 2013. We’ve seen some figures such as “100,000 fold FAMOLED” floating around recently – which suggests that the technology is now durable enough to withstand constant day to day flexing.

What are the applications for Flexible Displays?

As exciting as this all seems, a bendy mobile phone is actually somewhat impractical. Maybe one day we will see the technology integrated into wrist-band phones or something like Nokia’s “morph” concept from 2008, but not for some time.

The first iterations of flexible screens will likely be for devices with curved displays. They may not be fully “flexible”, but they will take advantage of the technology to create curved devices. This could be used to create a bezel-less device by wrapping the FAMOLED around the edges of a device. In a mobile phone, for example, the device wouldn’t necessarily have a rectangular display, but a display which curved round the sides of the device and even onto the back!

Flexible screens would also be particularly useful for advertisers, who often adopt this type of technology early on (for added wow factor). You could claim adversing space on uneven surfaces, around columns, lampposts and poles – perhaps even as a page or section in a magazine or newspaper. A FAMOLED screen is extremely portable – so perhaps we would see them integrated into clothing! Transparent flexible screens could be used in, or as an overlay, for windows, or inside glasses Google’s Project Glass… maybe there wouldn’t need to be any glass at all!

We’d love to hear from you!

Really we think the possibilities for this technology are amazing – what do you think? Let us know the best use cases and your thoughts about FAMOLED screens and we’ll include the best ones in this post!

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