Flexible displays are evidently part of the future, if patent applications are any guide.
IHS Technology said that 312 patents for flexible displays were filed with the US patent office in last year, accounting for 62 percent of applications.
Samsung is the leader of the pack – it filed half of the flexible display paents in the USA, with fellow Korean company LG Electronics filing 17 percent of the patents.
Ian Lim, a senior analyst at IHS, said: “Patents for flexible display device technologies outnumber those for flexible display parts and manufacturing technologies in recent patents, indicating that the flexible display market is entering a period of maturing growth,” he said.
Lim said many of the applications for patents are connected to reducing device distortion and introducing user interfaces for bendable and foldable displays.
The key materials patents were related to organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs) and polylmide flexible substrates.
Rigid LCD screens won’t be a thing of the past unless the makers of flexible panels get more price competitive.
The manufacturers of organic light emitting diode (OLED) panels are looking to make more flexible active matrix organic light emitting diode (AMOLED) panels, according to a report from research company IHS.
We don’t have to spell out all the words in AMOLED again, but the leaders in manufacturing these flexible panels are Korean giants Samsung and LG Display.
Those two manufacturers are ramping up production of flexible panels this year and IHS thinks flexible shipments are set to grow exponentially.
The reason why flexible panels seem to be the order of the day is because IHS believes wearable and other form factors need them.
But the snag is that smartphone makers – presumably other than Samsung and LG – find AMOLED panels to be a little too expensive for their purposes.
Principal analyst Jerry Kang at IHS, said: “Smartphone makers were unhappy with the price of AMOLED panels, because higher priced performance AMOLED displays had lower sharpness than LTPS LCD displays with the same resolution. As the wide colour gamut of AMOLED displays has not been a major differentiation factor in the smartphone panel market, current AMOLED panels will eventually lose their appeal, unless prices decline further.”
LG Display is apparently gearing up to ship its first flexible displays later this year.
The company has already outpaced Samsung in the OLED and 4K space, and now it seems bent on doing the same with bendy panels. Both Samsung and LG have already showcased flexible displays in recent months, but it appears LG will ship them first.
According to the Korea Times, LG is widening its lead over rivals such as Samsung. It shipped 218 million LCDs over 9.1 inches last year, while Samsung Display shipped 163 million units. Chimei Innolux and AU Optronics came in third and second.
LG Display’s IPS LCDs are used by a number of global tech brands, including Chinese smartphone makers who are going from strength to strength. The company has stepped up its R&D spending and it is pushing a number of new technologies, such as W-RGB OLED TV panels and IGZO TFT backpanels. It is also betting big on UHD, or 4K panels.
Flexible displays for phones and tablets are just one cog in the LG juggernaut. LG Display wants to outpace Samsung in all display technologies and so far it seems the approach is working.
From a modest figure of $34 million this year, the market for flexible displays is set to grow to be worth $2.4 billion in 2015 and as much as $30 billion in 2020.
That’s according to a research report from Displaybank, and the main driver of growth in the market will be e-books and advertising until 2011.
But after that date, flexible displays will have an alternative use in mobile phones, according to the research outfit.
The figures, however, are predicated on companies successfully developing display devices, backplanes, substrate, material, process technology and manufacturing equipment, said Displaybank.
The ideal specs for flexible displays includes e-paper which is thin, light, rugged, flexible, foldable, and bendable. Many vendors are already working on such specifications. Earlier this year, Plastic Logic said that it was readying a colour version of its flexible product, the QUE ProReader.
The following chart is courtesy of Displaybank, and shows the phenomenal growth in flexible displays it forecasts.
Plastic Logic said that it’s likely a colour version of the QUE ProReader will be ready for action towards the end of next year.
And it also confirmed that the black and white version, which it showed off at this year’s CES, will be available to buy in June – the 3G version will cost around the $700 mark.
Plastic Logic – a spin off from the Cavendish Labs in Cambridge, has a flexible display which consumes very little power. 1,000 content providers have already signed up to collaborate on the ProReader including the Wall Street Journal and several scientific journals.
The device, showed off by the company here at Dresden, weighs less than 500 grams, is shatterproof, thin, uses touch navigation and a wi-fi connection.
The company said that earlier delays to the black and white version were because it wanted to ensure process stability and had to change a few of the process steps.
The problems with a colour version are that Plastic Logic wants to keep the flexibility of the product and is already cooperating with other unnamed companies to make colour filters on plastic foil and merge flexible colour filters with its own flexible display.
The company said that it had a number of other applications in mind for its technology, including advertising, and that as it ramped volume products could become significantly cheaper because the transistor used in the process is relatively simple and avoided the complexities of other designs.