A breakthrough in foldable OLED screen tech means a display can be folded in half like a sheet of paper without creasing. It's no exaggeration to say this could change every mobile device's design.
Foldable computer displays have been the stuff of sci-fi legend for ages, and numerous device prototypes have been designed and tested...but almost none have made the journey into a real product. With any luck, that won't be the case for a new OLED design from Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology—because it's flexible enough to be folded in two like a sheet of paper, and resist the formation of picture-distorting creases for more than 100,000 re-folds.
The secret in the new design is that the active matrix OLED display is actually mounted on silicone rubber, which is a hyperelastic material (one that can endure huge elastic strain from stretches) and a protective pair of glass shields that also act as touchscreens. By using existing OLED production techniques, the Samsung team has worked out a way that folding screens can be made with just a few adjustments to the technology—essentially mounting the OLED units on a different substrate and using materials that have almost identical optical properties. They're also capable of being bonded to each other very strongly in the final display "sandwich." Their closely aligned optical properties mean there's no distortion to the imagery, and the joint in the screen when unfolded is almost invisible.
The silicone base helps give the screen a very small bending radius of just 1mm, which means it's feasible to make a screen that can fold over 180 degrees, and because it's flexible yet resilient it results in a screen that can be bent in half 100,000 times and yet suffer a loss of light intensity in the crease zone of just 6%—almost undetectable to the human eye.
High-quality active matrix OLED tech is well developed, and the rest of the materials in the invention are also commercially available, meaning there the barrier to entry is lower than usual for this tech to appear in products. The Samsung team is working on that, with the aim of expanding their research prototype into real large-screen devices.
Reliable, resilient folding displays could absolutely revolutionize product design. Pushed by innovations like the iPad (which its designer Jonathan Ive has often noted is designed to eliminate all traces of clutter so it's basically just one thing: a screen), and the explosion in mobile computing, we're taking large color displays into more places than ever, as users. But the design of all of these is crimped by the need to remain portable, and yet deliver a large enough screen. Enter this new screen, which could double the size of your smartphone's display with just a single fold.
And that's just a simple implementation. As foldable screen tech develops, there will likely be design innovations we can't picture yet, because gadget designers will be freed of a lot of the structural constraints forced on them with current display tech. Dare we say it—the "paper computer" seen in shows like Caprica may not be all that far off.
[Image: Yanko Design]