Article last updated on: Feb 07, 2019

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.

Samsung's foldable OLEDs

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 early 2018, Samsung Display seemed to have overcome most of its challenges, and the company started showing an almost-ready first prototype in private meetings. Several Samsung officials have committed to an 2018 launch, and according to our information Samsung Display is set to begin foldable OLED production in November 2018.

In-folding vs Out-folding smartphone designs

Samsung's foldable OLED capacity will be limited at first (ETNews estimates it at 100,000 panels in 2018 and a million panels in 2019) and its foldable device is likely to be a high premium device. There are conflicting reports regarding the design itself - but the most likely device is one with two OLEDs - the internal one that is around 6.5 to 7.3 inches in size when open and around 3.5-inches in size when folded, and an external OLED that will be around 3.5 inches in size and used when the device is closed. There are rumors that the device will be called Galaxy F (Galaxy Foldable).



Other foldable OLED developers

Samsung Display is not the only display maker to develop foldable OLED technologies, though. 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, who may yet become the world's first foldable OLED producer if Nubia does indeed release its device by the end of 2018.

Nubia alpha photo

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%).

Foldable OLED shipment forecasts (2019-2022, DSCC)

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The latest foldable OLED news:

UBI: the AMOLED market will grow 13.8% in 2019 to reach $32.2 billion in revenues

UBI Research estimates that the OLED market will reach $32.2 billion in revenues, up from 13.8% from 2018. UBI says the the growth will come from new applications - including foldable smartphone displays, 8K OLED TVs and rollable OLED TVs. Increased yields by Chinese AMOLED makers will also contribute to the growth.

AMOLED revenue and growth 2016 Q1 to 2018 Q4 (UBI Research)
AMOLED revenues in Q4 2018 reached $7.9 billion (down 3.7% from Q3 2018 and 10.4% from Q4 2017). In the whole of 2018, revenues reached $28.3 billion, up 7.1% from 2017 ($26.4 billion). UBI sees the oversupply in the flexible OLED market to continue as high prices prevent adoption in mid-end smartphones.

Leaked ad shows Samsung upcoming foldable smartphone device

In November 2018 Samsung unveiled its upcoming foldable smartphone, and according to reports it may officially launch this new product on February 20th (at the Samsung Galaxy S10 unveiling event). Samsung Vietnam accidentally published an ad showing several new technologies, including a foldable smartphone:

Samsung first foldable smartphone/tablet device will use two OLED displays - a large 7.3" 1532x2152 foldable AMOLED that folds inside, and a smaller secondary OLED (4.5" 840x1960). Samsung brands the foldalbe display as the Samsung Infinity Flex Display.

Samsung reports its Q4 2018 financial results - lower OLED revenues, demand will pick up in H2 2019

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.

DSCC: SDC 7.3" foldable OLEDs cost $180 to produce, will drop to $90 by 2022

DSCC says that Samsung's foldable 7.3" 2152x15236 AMOLED panel (the one that will be used by Samsung's first foldable OLED device) currently costs almost $180 produce (and SDC will actually lose a bit on every panel sold).

Samsung foldable 7.3'' OLED production cost and price (2019-2022, DSCC)

SDC will be able, though, to quickly lower its production costs which will reach around $90 for each panel in 2022. Cost reductions will enable SDC to maintain a good profit margin on these foldable displays from 2020 onwards. The main reason for the current high prices are SDC's low yields on foldable AMOLEDs.

Korean researchers develop transparent and foldable perovskite-based LEDs

Researchers from Korea's Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology developed a new perovskite-based LED (PeLEDs) which are flexible enough to fold and are also transparent. It seems as if these LEDs are similar to OLED devices and provide area-lighting and not point-lighting like inorganic LED chips.

Korean research team develops translucent PeLED that can be folded image

Perovskite-based LEDs have been demonstrated before, but this is the first time a transparent and flexible one has been developed, according to the researchers. Perovskite LEDs feature high electron mobility, good color purity, and easy color control.

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