Flexible displays – a product differentiator or a gimmick?
June 12, 2019
Flexible displays have been much talked about in the last couple of years, but perhaps even more so in 2019 when some stunning applications of the technology were demonstrated for the first time. LG’s rollable OLED TV made a splash at CES 2019, followed by the launch of Samsung Galaxy Fold and Huawei Mate X foldable phones at MWC 2019.
These days it’s increasingly difficult for TV and smartphone makers to stand out when all products look so alike. So it’s not surprising that these new form factors attracted worldwide attention and are still talked about months after they were revealed. And while for some people, rollable and foldable displays may be just a gimmick, there is no doubt that new display technologies are needed that offer product differentiation and bring value to customers. This applies not just to smartphones and TVs, but to almost any other product.
LG rollable OLED TV. Source: LG
Flexible displays are not just for smartphones
Flexible active matrix OLED (AMOLED) displays have been around for a couple of years, but we haven’t seen many product types using the technology beyond smartphones and smart watches. Samsung Galaxy Edge and Apple Watch were some of the first consumer electronics to feature flexible OLED displays, at the premium end of the market. And there is a good reason for that – flexible OLED displays don’t come cheap. Because of the complex manufacturing process, lower yield and high materials costs, flexible OLED displays are expensive to manufacture. While costs will come down over time, they will remain prohibitive for large screens mass-market products.
Yet, there are many other applications that require thin, light, robust and curved screens. In the automotive sector, for example, the area dedicated to in-vehicle displays is increasing rapidly – this presents a huge challenge when it comes to the seamless integration of the display with the curved surfaces in the car. Glass-free flexible displays are also needed for consumer and industrial applications including smart speakers and home appliances, notebooks and tablets, and digital signage.
A new plastic display technology, organic LCD (OLCD), provides a flexible display solution for a wide range of mainstream applications. OLCD is a significantly lower cost manufacturing process than flexible OLED displays for several reasons: it can be manufactured in existing LCD factories; it uses cheap plastic substrates and deploys a low temperature process (below 100°C). Flexible OLCD displays can also be cost-effectively scaled to large areas. Unlike flexible OLED displays, OLCDs also offer high brightness and long lifetime concurrently, making them more suitable for many applications.
With product designers and engineers facing pressure to continually innovate and improve products, flexible displays can become strong product differentiators if the right technology is selected that addresses the specific product requirements.
How plastic OLCD can help you differentiate your product
Conformable and shapeable
Built on plastic substrates, OLCDs can be easily conformed to and wrapped around surfaces unlocking greater design freedom. They can be cut into non-square shapes during the production process and holes added to accommodate knobs, switches or other elements of the product design. OLCDs therefore can be used in ways that have never been possible with traditional glass displays.
Reduces product weight
Because it is glass-free, OLCD can significantly reduce product weight for applications for which this matters including notebooks and tablets, in-vehicle surface-integrated displays, aeroplane in-flight entertainment displays and digital signage.
The trend to reduce the size of the bezel on mobile devices has been a strong driver of innovation in display technology over the past few years. Thanks to its mechanical properties OLCD can enable borderless displays and thus allow bigger displays for the same sized notebook.
Better image quality and contrast than glass LCD
OLCD brings certain optical advantages over glass LCD, much of which originate from the extreme thinness of the plastic TAC substrates used. OLCD can offer ultra-high contrast through implementing a dual-cell technology whilst retaining its conformable properties. This attribute is particularly relevant to vehicle integrated-surface displays where OLED-like black-state and contrast ratio are important (for viewing at night-time), but high-brightness (for viewing at daylight) and long lifetime are also a major display requirement. Unlike flexible OLED displays, flexible OLCD can address all these requirements and that at much lower cost.
Scalable at low cost
For most applications the cost of the display component is a key consideration. It becomes even more important when larger displays are needed. OLCD can help keep the product costs down while providing a ‘wow’ factor in terms of product design. It can be manufactured in different sizes meaning that product designers will have a variety of options as they create new or upgrade existing products.
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