A report out this morning from Far East suggested Apple could be interested in adopting Samsung’s new flexible OLED screens, presumably for use in iPads, iPhones and iPods. The South Korean conglomerate last year supplied Apple with nearly $8 billion worth of processors, NAND flash chips and screens for iOS devices.
Now, Samsung has reportedly received a “huge” number of orders for flexible OLED displays and supposedly Apple is among the phone makers interested in this technology. An iPhone with a flexible display, anyone? Just a pipe dream, you say? Bear with me for a second, there’s more to this than meets the eye…
Citing industry sources from Asia, The Korea Times reported on Monday:
Future versions of Apple’s iPhone, the definitive mobile device credited for taking the Internet beyond the personal computer, might bend and twist.
At least that seemed to be what Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Kwon Oh-hyun was hinting at when he revealed that the company is getting “huge” orders from electronics makers for it futuristic lineup of flexible organic light emitting diode (OLED) displays.
And according to the obligatory industry sources, “Apple is likely to be one of the handset makers asking Samsung to provide them flexible screens”.
Apple purchased nearly $8 billion worth of Samsung’s LCDs and chips last year and is expected to buy $11 billion worth of parts this year, the publication noted.
But just how realistic an iPhone with a flexible display is?
To answer this question, one needs to look no further than at what Samsung is planning.
Last October, PCWorld was able to confirm with the Galaxy maker that the company was “aiming to launch mobile phones with flexible displays” in 2012.
Here’s what their spokesperson said:
The flexible display, we are looking to introduce sometime in 2012, hopefully the earlier part. The application probably will start from the handset side.
Here’s a nice flexible Galaxy smartphone concept, credited to designer Heyon You.
Here, another one.
Who said only Apple fanboys claim the rights to jaw-dropping conceptual renders?
Now, Samsung isn’t joking.
Their plant in Tangjeong, South Chungcheong Province is already confirmed to produce some 960,000 flexible OLED sheets by the end of this year. Of course, 960,000 units is a far cry from the tens of millions of LCDs Apple uses in iOS devices sold every quarter.
Samsung Electronics chairman Kwon Oh-hyun insists that flexible OLED displays are here to stay:
We will be mass producing flexible OLED displays from the latter half of this year as the demand from our clients is significant.
Rival LG Display is also planning to produce flexible displays for mobile products that will debut in LG Electronics products.
Samsung Display showed off concept devices featuring flexible OLED displays at ECS 2011. Images courtesy of OLED-Display.net
We should note at this point that Apple’s long been rumored to adopt OLED displays for iOS devices, but materials and manufacturing challenges have made it difficult for Samsung to satisfy its own appetite for OLED displays, let alone Apple’s.
And no, OLED panels are not mature enough for that rumored Apple television set.
Due to ongoing issues with low yield rates and high production costs, Samsung has only been able to use OLED displays sparingly in its flagship mobile devices.
OLED technology provides for brighter and more vivid colors, deeper blacks and lower power consumption compared to ordinary LCDs found in iPhones. Flexible technology augments these OLED benefits with greater durability. For example, flexible OLEDs can survive impacts from a hammer, says Samsung Display.
As noted by an analyst from a U.S.-based investment bank quoted in The Korean Times article, Samsung wouldn’t invest in flexible OLED technology if Apple didn’t share its enthusiasm:
If Samsung finds increasing industry demand for a futuristic product like flexible displays, it’s hard to imagine Apple doesn’t have something to do with it.
As seen in Samsung’s CES 2011 presentation right below, their bendable OLED display is rollable and can adopt curved appearances.
And here’s another clip with Samsung Mobile Display showing off a 4.5-inch flexible AMOLED display prototype featuring electro activity polymer.
Strictly theorizing, this technology could allow for the creation of a future iPhone that could fold into a wrist watch-like appearance.
It’s not just Samsung, Microsoft is also envisioning a post-PC future with flexible displays all around us.
Here, have a look at their Productivity Future vision.
With Microsoft developing computing concepts that call for bendable displays and Samsung already at work developing smartphones and tablets featuring flexible display technology, it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that Apple too is at least toying with the flexible iPhone concept.
But even if prototypes of a flexible iPhone exist somewhere in Apple’s design lab, that’s not to say the company would market such a product in the foreseeable future, if ever.
Steve Jobs briefly addressed foldable display at the D8 conference, opining the technology is “many, many years into the future”.
But then again, Jobs also said Apple would never build a video-capable iPod and insisted the company hadn’t been building a mobile phone.
One thing’s for sure: someone out there is gonna mainstream mobile gadgets with bendable displays.
Summing up, a flexible iPhone could be in the cards, at least in theory.
Just don’t count on it happening soon.