Smartphones: Is flexible glass the future?

Bendy phones are supposed to be thinner and lighter than traditional glass displays, and also more durable.

The next big thing for smartphones might be flexible screens, said Heather Kelly in CNN.com. LG and Samsung are both pushing new smartphones that feature an OLED display on a “curved” screen. “Several companies have shown prototypes of flexible displays before, but so far there haven’t been any mass-market bendy phones.” Samsung’s model, the Galaxy Round, has already rolled out in South Korea, while LG’s model will hit stores next year. And Apple is rumored to have similar technology in the works for its iPhone. Flexible screens and curved displays could be “a dramatic shift” for smartphones, whose design “has pretty much stagnated” since Apple introduced “the keyboard-killing iPhone” in 2007. Bendy phones are supposed to be thinner and lighter than traditional glass displays, and manufacturers say they’re also more durable. And as phone-makers shift toward wearable tech, such as smartwatches, flexible display technology “could prove extremely useful in the new wave of small screens.”

Will Samsung’s and LG’s curved devices “reinvent the current smartphone paradigm?” asked Kit Eaton in FastCompany.com. Probably not. For starters, they won’t really be “bendy.” Like OLED televisions, they’ll have a permanent curve. But “the world probably isn’t ready for a fully bendable phone,” anyway. That’s fine, because it’s the screen technology that counts. Imagine car instrument panels built out of bendable glass, which “bend and flex over the contours to make for better readability.” In the near future, flexible glass technology will migrate to wearable devices like smartwatches or Google Glass, and in the long run, enable the creation of new personal devices. “What LG and Samsung are doing is setting themselves up as core suppliers for other manufacturers who will use their screen and battery tech in new devices—the best of which probably hasn’t been dreamed up yet.”

I wouldn’t get too excited, said Mark Rogowsky in Forbes.com. Despite the advent of new curved screens, many technical challenges remain before the “flexible future” arrives in earnest. For example, there’s “the invisible, but critical, touch-screen layer that rests on top of the display.” Making one “that works reliably atop” truly flexible glass isn’t easy. Not to mention that for a truly flexible smartphone, gadget-makers will need “a flexible circuit board and a flexible battery, too.” There are downsides to curved screens, too. While they might “contour more closely to one’s face and some pockets,” they might be harder to type on and suffer from distortion from certain viewing angles. And “don’t hold your breath” waiting for roll-up screens. Those distant technologies are wonderful in theory, but “it’s still not entirely clear they solve real-world problems that existing devices don’t.”

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