Foldable Screens Enter Smartphone Market

There have been whispers for years about
manufacturers using flexible OLED (organic light-emitting diode) displays to
create devices that were flexible enough to fold in half. As late as 2018,
that’s all they were...whispers. In the subsequent year, to the surprise of
many industry professionals, several manufacturers have committed to creating
foldable devices. We’ll look at the technology behind these devices and tell
you about which foldable devices are going to be available in 2019.

OLED Foldable Screens

The first thing you should know about the
technology that allows a display to fold is that it is an innovation from LED
(light-emitting diode) technology. The LED is a semiconductor light source that
emits light when an electric current flows through it. It works through a
process called electroluminescence. As electrons in the semiconductor recombine
with electron holes, energy is released as photons. The color of the light
emitted depends on how the photons cross the energy gap of the semiconductor.

In an OLED display, the electroluminescent
anode is made from an organic compound. It is situated between two electrodes,
and as the electrons move and recombine, light is produced through the emissive
organic layer. Since it already produced visible light and not just a charge of
targeted energy, no backlight is needed. As a result, OLED displays typically
display deep black levels (which help in image contrast) and can be produced
thin and flexible.

Over the past five years, many different
manufacturers have made use of OLED displays. Some are PMOLED (using a
passive-matrix design) and some are AMOLED (using an active-matrix design). The
difference is the PMOLED display has control of each line of pixels
sequentially, while the AMOLED display uses a transistor to directly access
pixel function.

Bendable Displays

This doesn’t really get us closer to why OLED
displays can be so flexible. Inherently, the organic compounds found in an OLED
anode are able to be manipulated any which way, as long as the transistor used
to carry the energy formed by the electric current is also flexible. Once
scientists figured out that problem, it was a simple task of finding a
substrate layer that was able to flex while maintaining its integrity while
bending. This is why glass, while used in most of the smartphones up to this
point, isn’t an option for flexible screens. The flexible OLED displays
typically make use of a flexible plastic substrate that provides the right mix
of flex and strength that a foldable device needs to be effective.

Foldable Options

Some of the top manufacturers like Motorola
and Apple are rumored to have foldable smartphones ready for market sometime in
the near future, but there are plenty of manufacturers, including the world’s
most successful smartphone manufacturer, who is ready to launch their first
foldable phone. Let's look at some of the options you may see in 2019:

Samsung Galaxy Fold

Available to the public on April 26, 2019, the
Samsung Fold, is the first foldable smartphone to hit the United States’
smartphone market. Reportedly carrying an antenna capable of 5G speeds, it is a
seminal phone in multiple ways. The biggest draw, however is the foldable
screen. The unfolded screen measures at 7.3-inches and features a new Dynamic
AMOLED display. When folded up, there is a 4.6-inch Super AMOLED display on the
front of the phone. There is still no word how the software will integrate with
the two displays. The Galaxy Fold features a strong 64-bit, octa-core processor
and 12 GB of RAM. It comes standard with 512 GB of internal storage. The
battery clocks in at 4,380 mAh. There are still a lot of questions being asked,
and not many answers to be had about the Galaxy Fold.

Huawei Mate X

The other early edition to the foldable
smartphone market is the Huawei Mate X, which takes another strategy
altogether. The Chinese manufacturer doesn’t protect the foldable display, but
uses it. The display when opened measures at 8-inches, but when it is closed
the display wraps around the phone. This provides some interesting features
when attempting to take pictures, giving a viewfinder no matter how you are
planning on taking pictures. It also removes the need for front-facing lenses
as the entire device is effectively a display. The specs include a Kirin 980
octa-core processor with 8 GB of RAM and 512 GB of onboard storage. The battery
is 4,500 mAh with 55W fast charging standard. Since the launch of the product
is a few months off, more information will be made available soon.

Oppo, Xiaomi, LG, Motorola, and Apple have all
announced that they will be working on integrating foldable OLED technology
into their catalogue before long. Are you looking forward to having a foldable
phone (again)? Or are you skeptical that these manufacturers are creating
gimmick devices that aren’t practical for consumers? Leave your thoughts in the
comments section below.