Samsung Mobile Displays (SMD) is teasing the press of late with the announcement of a trade name ("Youm") for its flexible AMOLED technology it’s calling an unbreakable, flexible display. A second announcement came from Samsung’s SNRC (Samsung Netherlands Research Center) that started with the 2010 acquisition of Liquavista’s Electrowetting (EW) display technology. Here was news of a delay in the promise of flexible product launch to beyond 2013. Next, a Japanese consortium called TRADIM, short for Technology Research Association for Advanced Display Materials, a conglomerate of chemical makers and electronic manufacturers that reads like a whose who of Japan display industry company’s said will now close its doors after almost a decade of R&D, leaving final product development to individual companies. Its mission of developing a roll-to-roll TFT display process is now complete. While the news is attention grabbing, we somehow seem no closer to the advent of flex display products.
SMD has trademarked the name Youm to help sell its AMOLED display technology. And, its Korean language site is showing images of flexible prototypes under the heading: Design Proposal, "Flexible Display Card". This appears to be getting lots of media buzz, so should we expect something soon?
The other Samsung announcement reported by a Dutch Blog site Tweakers.net quoted hometown head of the SNRC, Johan Feenstra at an e-reader event, stating products based on the flexible technology should be "out in 2013," up to a year later than originally announced at the time of the acquisition. Then a Monday update on the site said the Samsung "central office" reports a further delay, and the technology will be available in "two to three years." This development effort is based on the EW technology Samsung acquired at the end of 2010 and announced in January 2011 with a promise of a "faster time to market" for the flex-based displays. Well, to borrow from a song, "…a year has come and gone since we heard the news," and the delays keep on coming.
Proposed products in the SNRC pipe include a 9.7-inch display based on the EW technology that’s been under development for some time. In fact, Feenstra, who came to Samsung from the Liquavista acquisition, has been developing this technology since early in the decade (2002) starting at Philips. Other prototype sizes include a 6-inch flexible device initially targeting the e-book reader (EBR) market. Maybe the economics of EW displays (cost versus alternatives) brought Samsung and company to a product application re-think, something not new to the EW technology since the early days EBRs.
On the Japan side, the TRADIM group includes Sharp, Hitachi, NEC, Dai Nippon Printing, Toppan Printing, Sumitomo Chemical, and seven others, all coming together with the goal of creating new display panels using a flexible film substrate (sans-glass.)
TRADIM, recently showed a full color (we think) flexible film substrate LCD prototype using a roll-to-roll process the group hopes to license not just to its members like Sharp, Hitachi and NEC, but others in the display space looking to differentiate products with bending, twisting even folding into smaller form factors to enhance mobility.
The 3.5-inch diagonal display prototype came in a 0.5mm thin stack, boasting a pixel density of 114 pixels per inch and a weight of just 7 grams. Nikkei Electronics said the stack consists of five major components including film substrate (with high thermal resistance and a low coefficient of thermal expansion), a polarizing and phase difference film, color filter, TFT (film) and backlight.
The group also reported passing durability tests of the new display prototype to JIS (Japanese Industrial Standards) bending to a curvature radius of 30 cm. (about 12-inches) over a 1K hour stress period with temperature at 80-degrees C and 85% humidity. Supposedly, now that the heavy lifting is done, each company will go their separate path’s to develop commercial products-but just who and when remain unclear.
What is clear, the display industry is at a new flex point (ok bad pun). Both the iPhone and new iPad has demonstrated the importance of the display in mobile product success, and flex panels offer the promise of improved mobility and usability by helping de-couple the display from the portable device size. Are higher resolution and flexibility the future direction of mobile displays? Whoever gets this right will have a distinct advantage in the next gen mobile device space, and for now anyway, OLEDs and AMLCDs seem to have the advantage over more exotic (EW) solutions, but stay tuned. - Steve Sechrist