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:
In April 2019, 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, the Galaxy Fold. The company finally announced that it will start shipping the Galaxy Fold tomorrow, on September 6. Samsung will start rolling out its first foldable smartphone soon in more countries, including Europe and the US.
It took Samsung around three months to re-design the phone and fix all the issues. Samsung updated the design and also upgraded the construction to better protect the device from external particles. Samsung also took the time to improve the user interface of its new, and optimized more apps and services for its unique foldable UX.
A leaked TCL smartphone roadmap shows that the China-based phone maker is planning to release a foldable AMOLED smartphone called FlexTab towards the end of 2020. The company is also aiming to release phones with edge-type flexible OLEDs earlier in the year.
We do not know if this leaked image is authentic, but we do know that TCL demonstrated several foldable OLED prototypes earlier this year at the Mobile World Congress.
In February 2019 Huawei launched its first foldable smartphone, the Mate X with a 8" 2200x2480 foldable AMOLED display that folds outwards. Huawei originally said it will launch the Mate X by the end of June, but Huawei later said it plans to release it in September and now the company again delays the launch saying that the phone will launch by November.
Back in June Huawei said that it needs more time to test the device and make sure it is durable. It is likely that Huawei is still testing the device - or that Huawei did find some problems and now needs to fix these. It is also possible that the US ban on Huawei is behind this decision. In an
AU Optronics has been developing OLED ink-jet technologies for many years, according to reports, and has setup a 3.5-Gen pilot ink-jet OLED printing line. Today AUO announced that the company is going to showcase its first ink-jet printed OLED panel at Touch Taiwan 2019.
AUO will demonstrate a 17.3" 4K (225 PPI) OLED display that was produced using an ink-jet printing process. AUO says that the display features a 120Hz refresh rate, a wide color gamut and high brightness (that AUO did not yet specify). AUO will also showcase 5.6" foldable OLEDs that can be folded inwards or outwards for customized design according to client requirements. The display's folding radius is 4 mm and it can be folded over 200,000 times. AUO will also demonstrate a 12.1" LTPS Micro-LED prototype, which seems to be the same one shown in 2018.
DSCC updated its foldable OLED market forecasts, saying that it now expects the market to grow slower than it anticipated earlier this year. In 2019 DSCC sees 360,000 foldable panels produced in 2019, with less than 250,000 actual devices sold. By 2023, the market will grow to over 68 million units (a CAGR of 272%) generating over $8 billion in revenues.
Smartphones will remain the leading devices to adopt foldable OLEDs throughout the forecast period, and starting in 2020 DSCC sees clamshell designs with at least a 60% unit share. DSCC sees ultra-thin glass as becoming a significant player, with Samsung adopting SCHOTT UTG starting in 2020. Ultra-thin glass enables an aggressive folding radius, scratch resistance, hardness and a similar touch experience to current glass based displays.
China-based OLED producer Visionox announced plans to establish a flexible and foldable OLED module factory in Guangzhou, China. Together with the local government, Visionox plans to invest 11.2 billion Yuan (around $1.6 billion USD) in this new factory.
Visionox did not provide any time frame for this new fab. The company is currently operating a 6-Gen AMOLED production line in Hebei (with a monthly capacity of 30,000 substrates) and has announced plans to establish a similar flexible OLED line in Hefei in a $6.3 billion investment.
In April 2019, 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, the Galaxy Fold.
Following three months of re-design, Samsung now announced that it fixed all the issues in its foldable smartphone and is ready to start shipping in September 2019. Here are the list of changes that Samsung announced, including both design and construction improvements:
In January 2019 Xiaomi unveiled a new prototype smartphone that uses a tri-foldable OLED display. The company did not disclose much information, but a report from Taiwan suggested that the OLED supplier for this prototype was Visionox.
In an interview with China Daily a Visionox VP confirms that Visionox supplied the foldable OLED prototypes to Visionox. He also says that Visionox supplied Xiaomi with the innovative OLED displays with under-the-screen camera (seen in the video below).
China-based display maker CSoT demonstrated several new OLED display prototypes and technologies at SID 2019, and this great new video shows these displays in action.
First up is a 31" 4K (3840 x 2160, 144 PPI) AMOLED that was produced using an ink-jet printing process on an IGZO substrate. The peak brightness is 200 nits and the refresh rate is 120 Hz. This seems to be the same panel announced in March 2018 by Joshua Printing Display Technology (established by CSoT and Tianma in 2016). The display has some noticable defects.
China-based OLED producer Visionox has demonstrated several new OLED technologies at SID DisplayWeek 2019 last month, and the following great video shows the company's impressive booth and displays.
First up is a foldable OLED display that can be folded inwards and outwards. The panel's folding radius is 5 mm, and Visionox says that it can be folded over 200,000 times. The company did not disclose the exact size and resolution, though.