Back in late 2004 I had just launched my first online company. I still remember buying a Motorola ‘Razr V3’ the day the first invoice got paid 🙂 The action of flipping the V3 open was virtually addictive! If memory serves me correctly, ‘007’ had one too! The central hinge design was heralded at the time as a sign of things to come.
Things didn’t pan out that way – as we now know – but it looks like folding phones are again beginning to emerge as the future for smartphones – minus the hinge!
A little-known company in China called Royole have recently launched what they are touting as the ‘world’s first folding smartphone’. They are calling it the FlexPai. I’m not sure what ‘Pai’ means but it most definitely flexes!
Admittedly, the screen looks very ‘plastic’ when compared with the shiny-smooth OLED screens we have become used to on recent smartphones from Samsung, Huawei, Apple et al. but as the technology develops, the big plus is that the days of cracked screens will soon be behind us.
Flexible displays are most certainly the future – as soon as the hurdles preventing flexible technology from progressing can be overcome. But what are those hurdles?
1. Memory Scaling
Memory scaling has become difficult because recent trends in systems, applications and technology are worsening the memory system bottleneck problem. On the architectural front, energy and power consumption are the main design limiters. It is costly to scale the memory further. Newer solutions/structures of memory must be figured out to provide more flexibility to the devices.
2. Battery Rigidity Barrier
One of the most evident hurdles that smartphone manufacturers are facing is its battery design, which is unyieldingly rigid in nature. Conventional lithium ion batteries, which power today’s smartphones, are organically straight in shape don’t have a flexible alternative. Until that malleable component is found and can produce usable batteries, truly flexible phones may remain a distinct reality.
3. Circuitry Inflexibility Barrier
Similar to the battery conundrum, and almost as critical is the circuitry involved. The board on which other components fit is made of silicon which doesn’t allow for much flexibility. The challenge for manufacturers is to come up with low-cost organic alternatives to replace traditional silicon circuits.
4. Weatherproofing Barrier
Organic Light Emitting Display (OLED) is extremely sensitive to oxygen, moisture and water. The challenge for manufacturers to keep a flexible OLED display sealed off from the corrosive atmosphere while allowing it to flex is a tricky proposition.
5. Power Consumption Barrier
Since the OLED display medium requires more current as compared to the traditional liquid crystal medium, it creates a great amount of strain on the TFT circuits that drive the display media. Smartphone manufacturers will have to find smarter solutions for making the devices work with less power consumption.
The future of the flexible display market is bright, provided the hurdles above are overcome by tech companies. In a report by IHS on the flexible display market back in 2014, it was estimated that ‘the flexible display market will continue to develop at a rate of 226% to $42 billion by the end of 2020.’ That’s a lot of flexible phones in the next 24 months! Perhaps an overestimation by an outdated report but the upward trend is certainly clear.
As the technology barriers to flexibility are overcome one-by-one, the tech giants will be scrambling to get their products to market and ‘your flexible friend’ will no longer be just your credit card.
The only bad news is that companies fixing cracked or smashed screens will be going out of business at a rate of knots – but maybe that’s not such a bad thing after all…