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 the first such products are finally arriving 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 Samsung finally introduced the first device, the Galaxy Fold - which was launched prematurely, though, which compelled Samsung to halt production, fixed some design issues - and hopefully the company will finally launch the device again in September 2019.
Samsung's first foldable device uses 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 Fold is relatively thick and bulky - and is expensive (around $2,000).
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.
In February 2019 Huawei launched its first foldable smartphone, the Mate X with a 8" 2200x2480 foldable AMOLED display that folds outwards. Huawei said it will launch the Mate X by the end of June, but now the company says it is now planning to release it in September.
In September 2019 Nubia unveiled the Alpha - smartband that turns into a smartphone - with a foldable OLED display. Nubia started shipping this device in China in early 2019. Xiaomi has also teased a beautiful tri-folded OLED smartphone.
In May 2019 Lenovo demonstrated a prototype 13.3" foldable OLED ThinkPad laptop - with LGD providing the display. Lenovo said that it developed this device for over three years, and hopes to launched a commercial one in 2020.
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. BOE is likely to be the display supplier for Huawei's Mate X.
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. The device is now shipping in China. The producer of the Nubia Alpha's display is China-based Visionox. Visionox is also supplying the OLEDs to Xiaomi's prototypes.
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:
TCL has unveiled two interesting foldable OLED prototype devices. The first one is a tri-foldable OLED smartphone, that has a 10" 3K AMOLED display that folds into a 6.64" one. The second is the sliding-expanding prototype we already reported on last month.
These are still very early prototype devices, reportedly the software is not taking advantage of the special display features.
SDC expects demand for foldable OLEDs to soar, will increase production capacity to a million panels per month
Korean ETNews reports that Samsung is expecting higher demand for foldable OLED displays, and the company decided to increase its monthly production capacity from 260,000 units to around 600,000 by the end of May 2019, and over a million displays by the end of the year.
ETNews also reports that Samsung Electronics is planning to launch its third foldable smartphone later in 2020, and Chinese phone makers are also requesting foldable displays from SDC.
Earlier this month Samsung announced the Galaxy Z Flip, its 2nd foldable smartphone - and the 6.7" 1080x2636 inward foldable HDR "Dynamic AMOLED" display uses a flexible glass cover, as opposed to SDC's previous foldable OLEDs that used a flexible polyimide cover.
Samsung now says that it is branding its ultra-thin-glass foldable OLEDs as Samsung UTG. I'm not sure what to say regarding Samsung's slogan "Tough, yet Tender" which seems to be taken out of a completely different industry.
In early February Motorola started shipping its $1,500 foldable OLED phone, the Razr 2019 - with its 6.2" 2142x876 (21:9) inside-foldable AMOLED display, produced by BOE. Initial reports suggested that the screen feels fragile - even more so than the screen of the Galaxy Fold.
Phone Radar now reports that only a week after getting the device, the plastic display is peeling off at the fold. iFixit tested the device, and scored it 1 out of 10 in terms of durability and fixability - and a simulated test suggested a failure at the hinge mechanism.
CNet reports that TCL was supposed to demonstrate a novel smartphone design next week (at the cancelled MWC event) that uses an "expandable" sliding OLED display. The idea is basically the same as in the first crop of foldable OLEDs - provide a phone that can open up to a tablet-size device:
Apparently TCL was supposed to show a working demonstration. Such a design will likely require a screen that is folded in two places or some sort of rollable display - which is possible but more difficult to actually commercialize compared to a screen that folds inwardly or outwardly in a single position.
Yesterday Samsung announced the Galaxy Z Flip, its 2nd foldable smartphone, features a 6.7" 1080x2636 inward foldable HDR "Dynamic AMOLED" display. The external display is a small 1.1" 112x300 Super AMOLED. The Galaxy Z Flip will ship on February 14th, starting at $1,380 in the US.
Besides the new form factor, the Z Flip uses an ultra-thin glass cover - unlike the Galaxy Fold which used a plastic one. At least according to The Verge, this makes for a big improvement - it feels better, can't easily be "marked-up" by a fingernail and there's no visible crease. The Z Flip also feels much more refined - with no creaking and with a solid-feeling hinge.
Yesterday Motorola started shipping its $1,500 foldable OLED phone, the Razr 2019. The Razr 2019 features a 6.2" 2142x876 (21:9) foldable AMOLED display that folds inside, produced by BOE. There's also a regular external 2.7" 600x800 AMOLED used when the phone is closed.
Initial reviews are appearing online. Android Central's Nirave Gondhia tested one such phone, and he says that the Razr's screen feels fragile, even more so than the screen of his Galaxy Fold. While he likes how the device folds, he says that as the screen shifts along the hinge, the feedback on the screen feel strange and it feels as if the screen could be damaged by the folding over the long term.
Samsung is working on its next foldable phone, which according to leaks will be called the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip. According to XDA's Max Weinbach, the new phone will be use ultra-thin flexible glass, instead of polyimide.
In November 2019 Samsung indeed signed an exclusive deal with Korea's Dowoo Insys to supply ultra-thin glass (UTG) for future foldable OLED devices. Samsung is aiming to switch to glass as its current foldable OLEDs which are protected by a plastic cover are highly prone for scratching and are very fragile.
Lenovo unveiled the world's first foldable laptop - the ThinkPad X1 Fold. This is a Windows 10 Pro laptop that uses a 13.3" 2048x1536 foldable OLED display. The X1 Fold features an Intel chipset (unspecified yet) and a wireless keyboard. The battery life should be about 11 hours.
Lenovo says the ThinkPad X1 Fold will ship in mid-2020 starting at $2,499. Lenovo reveals that LG Display is the producer of the foldable display.
Intel unveiled a new concept device called the Horseshow Bend, which uses a 17.3" foldable OLED display that folds into a 12" display. The device is based on Intel's upcoming "Tiger Lake" mobile processors.
Intel says that the Horseshoe Bend can be used in a number of postures for varying user experiences: laptop, all-in-one, lay-flat, canvas or book. It has also been developed with a detachable keyboard that fit seamlessly into the device when folded for easy transport.