Isn’t it about time that we’re able to roll up – or even fold – our digital devices?
And I’m not talking about curved screens, which are just as rigid as a regular screen, yet arguably less versatile. I’m talking about digital displays that can match paper in flexibility. Where are those?
Bendable displays are the future. Holographic displays would be more impressive, that’s true, but that probably won’t happen for a long while. Realistically speaking, flexible screen displays will be the next big revolution. Here’s how you will benefit.
Why Haven’t Bendable Displays Taken Off?
In theory, there isn’t much of a difference in the actual display technology between a rigid screen and a flexible one. In the end, you just need to produce colored light. The main issue is keeping the screen functional while under the stress of bending.
Most common display technologies are unfit for dynamic bendable displays: LCDs require a fixed flat screen to produce a backlight and LEDs are too big to be bent, rolled, or folded and still produce light. As such, OLEDs are the current standard in the pursuit of flexibility.
“Just a few molecules of oxygen or moisture can kill the display, so the encapsulation requirements for an OLED display are quite significant.”
– Greg Raupp, “Flexible Displays Head to Market”
The downside of OLEDs is that they are rendered useless when exposed to moisture and oxygen. Both of these issues can be solved with an airtight cover, which is easy enough for a flat screen but extremely difficult when bending is involved. It’s made even tougher when production costs must be minimized for marketability.
It’s good news, then, that a company called Kateeva has developed a new sealing method that halves the manufacturing costs of flexible OLED screens. The news is quite recent and preliminary, so it’s yet to be seen whether this breakthrough can deliver on promises. However, it does bring bendable displays one step closer.
More Durable and Form-Fitting
The chief benefit of a bendable display is that it can do what traditional displays can’t: bend. This one fact alone has huge implications for the robustness of devices. If all goes well, you’ll never have to worry about a cracked screen again. Isn’t that a load off your mind?
But let’s take it one step beyond: the logical conclusion is that bendable screens will pave the way for bendable devices. Tired of stiff phones putting pressure in your pockets? Wouldn’t it be great if they just conformed to the shape of your thigh? Or what about a wide TV that can twist to fit the corner of your room, thus taking up less space? Incredibly convenient, if you ask me.
Portable Tablets? Try Digital Scrolls
Speaking of comfort, laptops and tablets always take up a fixed amount of space. Thinner and smaller has been the ongoing trend, but nobody has really tackled the issue of carrying around a portable device that’s still relatively bulky.
While they might be fine if you’re just relocating to do work in a café, laptops and tablets don’t play nicely in cramped spaces.
With screens that are bendable and rollable, devices can emulate the scrolls of ancient history and make space requirements a thing of the past. If you’ve ever used a chunky laptop on a crowded plane or bus, you know how annoying it can be. Imagine if you could resize the physical screen at will by pulling it out and rolling it back in?
Flexibility For Wearable Devices
Another growing trend right now is wearable tech: devices that you can wear on your body. Like all other tech, the screens on wearable devices have been limited by rigidity, thus limiting their capabilities.
“The other big mobile trend that has been bubbling up over the past year is wearable peripheral devices that connect to your smartphone, like smart glasses and watches. If LG or Samsung gets the flexible display technology right, it could prove extremely useful in the new wave of small screens that the tech industry is betting we’ll wear on our bodies in the coming years.”
– Heather Kelly, “Are Flexible Screens the Future of Smartphones?”
Some consider wearable tech to be nothing more than a fad, but there are some real implications here that go beyond “look at me, I’m wearing the latest gimmick”. For example, consider specialized vital sign monitors that can be worn on the wrists, chest, or neck of hospital patients.
Integration With Odd-Shaped Surfaces
The biggest change will be the integration of bendy screens onto surfaces that were once too irregular for a normal screen. This might actually prove to be an annoyance if companies go overboard with it, especially if these screens are overwhelmingly used for advertisements and as marketing gimmicks.
Then again, some of the applications could be interesting. Think of any non-flat product or device and imagine what it would be like if it suddenly had a screen: mice, bulbs, mugs, shoes, musical instruments, steering wheels, doorknobs, toilets, or food cans.
Despite the fact that a lot of those ideas sound silly right now, all it would take is one ingenious innovation to prove how revolutionary a bendable display can be. Personally, I think we’ll be pleasantly surprised by how often the question “How did nobody think of that before?” crosses our minds.
Are bendable displays the way of the future? Or will they have an inconsequential impact on the tech industry? Tell us what you think in the comments below!