Foldable OLED displays are exciting - as these displays will enable new device form factors - such as phones that open into tablets, smart bands that open into smartphones and more. In 2019 we will finally see the first foldable smartphones on the market!
The first foldable smartphones
In 2013, Samsung kicked off the foldable OLED market, sort of, when it announced its YOUM flexible OLED brand, showing off several flexible OLED prototypes - including a foldable phone/tablet. Samsung never used the YOUM brand name again, but Samsung has continued to develop its foldable OLED technology.
In 2015 we started hearing the first reports of Samsung's Project Valley. Samsung hoped to release its first foldable device in 2016, but the company faced many challenges including problems with the substrate and the software and user interface. In 2019 the company is finally set to introduce its first device, the Samsung Galaxy F (F for foldable)
Samsung's first foldable device will have two screens - a large 7.3" 1532x2152 (361 PPI) foldable AMOLED that folds inside, and a smaller 4.5" 840x1960 AMOLED that is used when the phone is closed. Samsung brands the display as the Samsung Infinity Flex Display. The Galaxy F is relatively thick and bulky - and will carry a very high cost and be produced in limited volume.
Other companies are also developing such devices - Royole is already shipping a "developer" edition of the FlexPai phone/tablet, with its 7.8" 1920x1440 (308 PPI) AMOLED display that fold outwards. Xiaomi has teased a beautiful tri-folded OLED smartphone and Huawei will unveil its first foldable smartphone in MWC 2019.
Foldable OLED developers
Samsung Display is not the only display maker to develop foldable OLED technologies. China's BOE Display seems to be another leading foldable OLED developer. In May 2018, BOE demonstrated several impressive new technologies, including a 6.2" 1440x3008 foldable (1R) OLED display with a touch layer and a foldable 7.56" 2048x1535 OLED. According to reports, BOE is working with three companies, including Huawei, with four different devices under development.
In September 2018, Chinese smartphone maker Nubia unveiled its first foldable device, the Nubia Alpha. The Alpha uses a tall and slim foldable OLED and turns from a slim phone to a wearable smartwatch. Nubia claims that the device will ship in China by the end of 2018. The producer of the Nubia Alpha's display is China-based Visionox. Visionox is also supplying the OLEDs to Xiaomi's prototypes.
Besides Samsung, Visionox and BOE, other display makers have demonstrated foldable OLEDs, but it seems that none are as mature as Samsung and BOE. LG Display has been reportedly collaborating with Apple, Google and Microsoft on this project (this hasn't been confirmed) but its plans are to release its first panel only in 2020. Tianma also demonstrated foldable OLEDs in 2018, and so did Everdisplay and Royole- but it does not seem as if these companies are ready to begin production in the near future.
The foldable OLED market
It seems that 2019 will be the year of the foldable OLED. Market analyst firm DSCC estimates that by 2022 the market for foldable OLED will reach 63 million units, up from 3 million in 2019 (a CAGR of 173%).
Flexible OLEDs Market Report
If you want to fully understand the flexible and foldable OLED display and lighting markets, check out our Flexible OLED Market Report. This comprehensive report explains:
- Why flexible displays and lighting panels are so exciting
- What kind of flexible displays are currently on the market
- What the future holds for flexible OLEDs
- Foldable OLED plans and forecasts
- How to acquire flexible OLEDs for your products
The report package also provides a complete list of flexible OLED developers and makers and their current (and future) products, and a lot more. Read more here!
The latest foldable OLED news:
Earlier this month Lenovo demonstrated a prototype 13.3" foldable OLED ThinkPad laptop. We speculated that LGD is the display supplier, and yesterday LGD's CTO confirmed this.
Lenovo said that it developed this device for over three years, and hopes to launched a commercial one in 2020. InOctober 2018 it was first reported that LG Display is working together with Lenovo on a 13.3" foldable OLED laptop device, but that was not confirmed until now.
Update: LGD confirms it is supplying the 13.3" foldable OLEDs to Lenovo's prototypes.
Lenovo demonstrated a prototype foldable ThinkPad laptop, that features a 13.3" foldable OLED display. Lenovo says that it developed this device for over three years, and hopes to launched a commercial one in 2020.
The reporters at The Verge really liked the device, but noted that the hardware is clearly not finished - the folding mechanism for example did not feel sturdy (and we all know this is critical in a foldable device) and the display itself suffers from "remarkably poor viewing angles".
GizChina reports that senior executives at Intel said that the company is looking at laptops with foldable OLED displays, working together with LG Display, Samsung Display, BOE and Sharp. There are many challenges to overcome, and Intel estimates that such foldable laptops will not arrive before 2021.
In October 2018 Samsung Electronics said that it is developing laptops with foldable displays, while other reports suggested that that LG Display is collaborating with Lenovo to develop a 13" foldable tablet.
On April 23th, after early reviewers reported that that the foldable screen in their Galaxy Fold devices broke down after a day or so, Samsung decided to delay the release of its foldable smartphone. Samsung's CEO now says that the company will soon announce a new launch plan for the Galaxy Fold in the US, after it had resolved the issues with the display.
Samsung says that it has "reviewed" the defects caused by particles that entered the device below the screen. Samsung will strengthen the durability of the exposed area on the hinge of the phone and will minimize the gap between the protective layer and the bezel of the main display in order to prevent any external substances from penetrating the device.
On April 23th, following the reports from early reviewers that the foldable screen in their Galaxy Fold devices broke down after a day or so, Samsung decided to delay the release of its foldable smartphone. Yesterday Samsung sent out a message to its US pre-order customers saying that it apologizes for the delay - and cannot yet confirm a shipping date.
Customers who pre-ordered the $1,980 Galaxy Fold were sent this message: "If we do not hear from you and we have not shipped by May 31st, your order will be canceled automatically". Samsung says that according to US regulations, it was required to send this message and cancel orders if the Fold will not ship before May 31.
The teardown experts at iFixit reviewed the Galaxy Fold and have taken it apart as they usually do with new smartphone - to find out why some of early review units failed so quickly (which caused Samsung to delay the launch of their highly anticipated foldable phone).
According to their analysis, the Galaxy Fold design has a weakness - and dust or other particles could enter the phone through the gaps in the top, bottom and the back of the device. This could create "bumps" on the display as the foldable display is pressed against the backside of the phone when fully folded. iFixit speculates that this could be the cause of the some of the reported display failures (another possible problem could be the removal of the protective top polyimide film).
Following the reports from early reviewers that the foldable screen in their Galaxy Fold devices broke down after a day or so, Samsung has decided to delay the release of its foldable smartphone.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Samsung wants to "fully evaluate the feedback and run further internal tests". Samsung will announce a new release date int he coming weeks. Samsung did not fully disclose its initial findings and does not give a full explanation to what went wrong with these review units. Samsung did, however, state that "Initial findings from the inspection of reported issues on the display showed that they could be associated with impact on the top and bottom exposed areas of the hinge. There was also an instance where substances found inside the device affected the display performance."
China-based OLED producer Visionox unveiled new foldable OLED prototypes at the China Information Technology Expo.
Visionox demonstrated inside and outside folding panels, 8.5-inch OLED that folds in two places and a larger 10.5-inch panel that folds in three places. Visionox says that its panels can be folded over 300,000 times.
Only yesterday we reported that early reviews of the Galaxy Fold are very positive and that Samsung says there's overwhelming demand for the new foldable device - and today we have much less positive news.
At least 4 early Galaxy Fold reviewers report that only after one day of use, the screens on their devices broke. The Verge's Dieter Bohn says that a bump appeared on the crease of the phone, which quickly broke the screen - even though he did not perform any stress tests or anything - just normal phone use.
Samsung says there's overwhelming demand for the Galaxy Fold, T3 says it could truly change smartphone design
Samsung Electronics started to accept pre-orders for the Galaxy Fold a few days ago (April 14th) - and the company says it is already sold out due to "overwhelming demand" and it is no longer taking pre-orders
This is great news, especially as many questioned whether customers will be willing to pay $2,000 for a foldable smartphone. Of course Samsung's foldable OLED production capacity is limited so this demand may not be actually very high.