Are flexible displays the future for touchscreen devices?

flexible screenOn the face of it, flexible displays aren’t all that complicated, they’re simply displays that can be rolled up, made to fit curved shapes or pretty much bent to suit any configuration.  But, strictly speaking display means a whole lot more than we give it credit for in the day-to-day use of the word.  Technically, the term display refers to the electronic material that sits behind the glass or plastic we tend to commonly term display; and it’s this stuff behind the scenes that makes the reality of a truly flexible display much more complicated than we might give it credit for.

Looking at all the supporting elements that need to be flexible, such as batteries and circuits mean that flexible displays for touchscreen devices are a whole lot more complex than they might look at the outset.  However, no matter how complex it may be, I believe that this whole area holds significant opportunities for Scottish tech innovators.

The concept of flexible displays has been around since the 70s, but in the last 5 years, companies like Sony, Nokia, Samsung and LG have become actively interested developing flexible displays, hitting the news with bendy displays that could be used on smartphones, smart watches or indeed any other gadget.  Nokia was the first to apply flexible displays to mobile phones with its Morph concept in 2008 and also unveiled its Kinetic flexible phone prototype in 2011.  What’s more, curved OLED TVs are now available from LG and Samsung.  And curved display phones that ‘hug’ the cheek are commonplace today.

However, these aren’t truly flexible displays.  Yes, they may be curved or arched but they don’t bend or roll, because they are rigid.  So, it’s fair to say that there is slight confusion in the market between the notion of flexible, contoured or arched, and something that you can virtually fold, bend or roll up should you want to.

But why on earth might you want a truly flexible display?  Things like reduced glare are a clear advantage, but beyond that, what might be in store for the day when we may have truly flexible displays that function as we’d want them to and don’t cost an arm and a leg?

One thing that will appeal to anyone who has teenagers in their home or are maybe just a bit careless themselves is the fact that a truly flexible display will be much less likely to break should you drop it.  The other thing is that, in most cases plastic is much lighter and thinner as well as lending itself to being made into more interesting and innovative shapes more cost effectively than glass.  So, durability is one, then there are things like slimmer and lighter displays as well as ease of transportation.  These are only some of the obvious benefits of this way ahead.  But there are still significant challenges that sit in the way.

So what’s standing in the way?  One of the most significant barriers is getting the internal contents of devices to be as flexible as the display.  At the moment, batteries and circuits, for example tend to be rigid and would need to be made flexible in order for this concept to really hit the spot.  All of that said, the benefits of truly flexible displays are clear for all to see.

So when might they become the norm?  Like most things tech-orientated, the reality of truly flexible displays will probably come a whole lot quicker than we care to imagine today, so if you’re a tech innovator with an interest in this particular sector, I guess the message is: get your skates on!

About the Author

Ross McLennanWant to chat? Ross is one of the Commercialisation Advisers for ICS Ltd and is passionate about  helping entrepreneurs try and turn their good ideas into great companies. Contact Ross here or you can also connect with Ross on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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