Is the flexible display dream inching closer to reality?

Chase Bonar
 from Winter Springs, FL
Published: April 26, 2013

For the better part of three years, manufacturers have been toying with the idea of flexible smartphone displays. The thought of a display that can bend and twist at our will would be an interesting feature, no doubt, but the mobile market's dream of this display tech has been teased ten times over. However, that could all change. According to CNET, LG's Vice President of Mobile, Yoon Bu-hyun, said the Korean company is planning to launch a smartphone with a flexible OLED display in Q4 of this year. One thing is for sure - if a smartphone with a curved display catches on, manufacturers will want to add this feature to their flagships. 

It’s a bold claim that shouldn't be taken lightly by the competition. Samsung recently announced issues in mass production of flexible OLED displays. The Korean IT News reported that Samsung OLED displays were experiencing encapsulation issues. Encapsulation technology - how OLED displays protect its inner elements from foreign elements (heat, water), is an important part in ensuring the OLED panel's lifespan. So, presuming LG has solved this dilemma, it looks like Samsung might come second in the race to mass produce flexible OLED panels.

And being first has its perks especially when flexible screens have been all the rage at electronics shows for the past three years.

To date, I have owned one smartphone with a curved display - the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. The Galaxy Nexus' tempered glass was curved to a negligible amount, but the effect was welcoming. With the phone held to my head, I was easily won over by this feature. It felt like holding your hand up to your face instead of that cold and flat device I was used to. The effect the curved display had when not pressed against my face was hardly noticeable, too, which made it very difficult for me to accept that I'd never get this experience on another flagship phone.

However, to be fair, a flexible OLED display would be much more dramatic in that it would be curved much more than the Galaxy Nexus was. But I still believe that this would be a welcome addition to the current crop of choices consumers have.

Upon first thought, a flexible OLED panel would be limited by current hardware components like the battery and smartphone chassis. It's plausible, then, that we are quite a ways off from truly manipulating the size and shape of our smartphones like Youm and Nokia's flexible displays have demonstrated over the years. But even if a smartphone with a stagnant flexible display comes to market, that is, one that is bent but doesn’t move out of position, it would still be a welcome addition to the foray of smartphones available. The development cycle for mainstream availability has required patience, and the thought that this dream could actually come true is exciting!

Talk of flexible displays has ebbed and flowed for so long that it’s beginning to seem like it will take a miracle for it to actually land. Inevitably, the thought of flexible displays has evolved over the years for me, but at this point, any news is good news. At CES 2011, it felt so very alien that I was literally dreaming of its applications. Sure, flexible displays could wrap around car center consoles! Then CES 2012 demoed larger OLED panels with a higher resolution of 720p. Oh, so they're only 0.3mm thick? Well, that would solve the tight jeans dilemma. And finally in 2013, they grew to the industry standard 5-inches, all the while keeping a crisp 720p resolution and the same thickness.

There’s something about this technology that makes the mobile industry feel fresh, and feeling fresh is important. It feels like innovation because it would require many software and hardware improvements to make it work. Flexible smartphone displays may not be the most reliable display technology to bet on a release date, but LG says it's going to do it anyway. That should not go unnoticed. They’re essentially saying that we will be using our smartphones in an entirely new way as soon as this year. Simply wonderful news, LG. 

The Korean company recently announced 10.3 million units were sold in the first quarter of 2013, a record for the company. This helped edge LG into the number 3 spot, just ahead of HTC, with 3.3 percent market share. So, LG is clearly making strides. That’s fine and I’m happy they’ve finally gotten the flagship smartphone recipe right, but a flexible display is a daring bet to make, and it's nice to see them going out of their comfort zone for the mobile industry.

Looking at the new Optimus G Pro which is set to land on AT&T any day now, it’s clear LG is growing up, and doing so with haste. The Korean company might not be challenging Apple or Samsung yet, but LG is definitely making progress.

The Optimus G Pro touts a 5-inch 1080p panel with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 CPU, 2GB RAM, and a 3,140mAh battery. These are serious specifications for a smartphone in 2013. LG is not timid.

There are even some rumors that the LG Optimus G's successor could be so thin the buttons won't fit on the edges of the device. So thin, in fact, that the normal power and volume rockers might be moved to the backside. Such a rumor surely makes me think LG is ready to do things that haven't been done before. 

And for the time being, it's a welcome mentality from the underdog. Here's to hoping LG can give us the next big thing in 2013.

What do you think about LG in 2013? Can a smartphone with a flexible OLED display give them an edge against the competition?  Hit the comments to share your thoughts on the aggressive LG of 2013!

Images via The Gadget Masters and The Tech Block.