OLED is an emerging display technology that enables beautiful and efficient displays and lighting panels. OLEDs are already being used in many mobile devices and TVs, and the next generation of these panels will be flexible and bendable.
Different kinds of flexibility
When we talk about flexible OLEDs, it's important to understand what that means exactly. A flexible OLED is based on a flexible substrate which can be either plastic, metal or flexible glass. The plastic and metal panels will be light, thin and very durable - in fact they will be virtually shatter-proof.
The first range of devices that use flexible OLED displays are not really flexible from the user perspective. The device maker bends the displays, or curves it - but the final user is not able to actually bend the device. Besides the beautiful designs, a flexible OLED has several advantages especially in mobile devices - the displays are lighter, thinner and more durable compared to glass based displays.
Second generation flexible OLED devices may indeed be flexible to the final user. Finally, when the technology is ready, we may see OLED panels that you can fold, bend or stretch. This may create all sorts of exciting designs that will enable large displays to be placed in a mobile device and only be opened when required.
Flexible OLED products
In October 2013, following many years of development and prototype demonstrations, both Samsung and LG Display finally started producing flexible AMOLED displays on plastic (polyimide) substrates. Both Korean companies are now mass producing such displays, which are being used in mobile phones and wearable devices - such as the Galaxy S7 Edge (shown below), the LG G Flex 2 and Apple's Watch.
Samsung Display is currently producing flexible OLEDs in two production lines, the 5.5-Gen A2 and the and the newer A3 6-Gen A3. Samsung is producing around 9 million flexible OLEDs per month - to satisfy demand for its mobile phones and wearables - and Samsung is working on expanding its capacity as demand soars and as Apple ordered around 100 million flexible OLED panels for its future iPhones.
LG Display currently produces plastic-based OLEDs in its Gen-4.5 fab, and is investing $900 million to build new production lines as it also aims to become a major flexible AMOLED producer.
The latest flexible OLED news:
In early March we conducted a 10 day trip to Seoul, to attend the OLED Korea 2019 conference (and visit some local display companies).
Visiting Seoul is a great chance to witness some beautiful OLED installations - LG Display has been deploying its OLED lighting and display solutions across town in businesses and tourist attractions. Retail stores of course were showing the latest smartphones by Samsung and LG - all of which adopt high end flexible AMOLED displays.
Last month LG Electronics announced its G8 ThinQ with its 6.1" 1440x3120 Crystal Sound OLED. According to a new trademark filing, LG now aims to brand its CSO OLEDs as "Display Speaker".
A Crystal Sound OLED, or Display Speaker turns the flexible OLED display into high end speakers. This innovating OLED technology works for smartphones, TVs and also OLED lighting panels. In LG's trademark filing, it also hints that this technology will be used in future wearable displays.
China-based TCL has unveiled a new foldable OLED phone prototype at MWC 2019. The device uses a 7.2" 2048 x 1546 AMOLED display that folds inwardly (in a similar way to the Samsung Galaxy Fold). TCL's device, however, is a prototype and not a product.
TCL is both a smartphone maker and a display producer. This device was demonstrated by the smartphone maker arm - and we are not sure whether it uses a foldable OLED produced at TCL's own OLED lines (CSoT's T4 6-Gen flexible OLED line in Wuhan should enter production soon) or whether the panel is produced by Samsung, BOE or Visionox.
In September 2019 Nubia unveiled a smartband that turns into a smartphone - with a foldable OLED display. Nubia said it will launch its Alpha foldable smartband by the end of 2018. This did not happen, but at MWC 2019 the company demonstrated the device again - and announced a new release date and prices.
The Nubia Alpha will start shipping in April 2019 in the US and Europe - but only the Bluetooth variant. The cost will be around $500. Nubia will also release an eSIM device - which will cost $624 and will launch in Q3 2019.
Huawei launched its first foldable smartphone, the Mate X with a glorious 8" 2200x2480 foldable AMOLED display that folds outwards. When closed, the phone operates as it has two displays - a 6.6" 1148x2480 on the front and a smaller 6.38" 2480x892 display on the back (which makes room for the cameras).
The Mate X specifications include 5G connectivity, a Kirin 980 octa-core chipset, 8 GB of RAM, 512 GB of storage, a NM memory slot and a quad camera setup with Leica optics.
CLSA released an interesting investment note and details Samsung Display's 2019 plans and expectations. Samsung's A3 flexible OLED line suffered from low utilization (52% in 2018) and Samsung hopes to improve this to 70% in 2019. Samsung shipped 145 million flexible OLEDs in 2018 and aims to sell 215 million in 2019 (a 48% increase).
In 2018 Samsung shipped 7 million flexible OLEDs to Chinese phone makers, and it aims to increase this to 40-45 million in 2019 (CLSA is skeptical of Samsung's ability to meet its target - even though the company seeks to cut its prices and offer volume discounts and offer the lower specification panels to mid-range smartphones). CLSA sees SDC's average flexible OLED price declining 15% in 2019.
The Fraunhofer FEP institute has teamed up with OLED lighting developer EMDE development of light to demonstrate wearable OLED lighting based on flexible OLEDs integrated into textile designs. The OLED demonstration will be unveiled at LOPEC 2019.
This project is part of the EU-funded PI-SCALE project, which recently demonstrated 15 meters long flexible OLED lighting panels. The Fraunhofer FEP says that they have taken a major step forward for the economical fabrication of OLED lighting devices based on the roll to roll process.
Samsung Electronics reported its financial results for Q4 2018, with revenues of KRW 59.27 trillion ($53 billion USD), down 10% from Q4 2017. Samsung's operating profit of KRW 10.8 trillion ($9.6 billion) was down 29% from 2017.
Samsung Display reported a decline in rigid smartphone OLED display sales - due to rising competition from LCD panels. Demand for flexible OLEDs was strong. In Q1 2019, OLED display sales will remain weak - but Samsung says that flexible OLED demand will pickup in the second half of 2019.
LG Display reported its financial results for Q4 2018 - it reported an operating profit of ₩279 billion ($250 million USD) due to strong shipments of IT panels and OLED TVs. LGD however gave a weak outlook to 2019 (for its LCD business).
LGD says that it will invest $7.1 billion in 2019 in capacity expansion, and $3.5 billion in 2020. It will divert all of its investments into OLED displays - with 60% going to large area OLED TV production and 40% going to small/medium pOLED production.
Last week Xiaomi unveiled a new prototype smartphone that uses a tri-foldable OLED display. The demonstration looks very nice, although the company did not disclose any information or specification.
Digitimes claims that Visionox is the supplier of the foldable OLEDs. Visionox is also the supplier of the foldable OLEDs used by Nubia for its upcoming (?) Alpha foldable device.