Get ready for curved smartphones. On Monday, electronics maker LG announced that it will begin selling curved phones next year, and Samsung has confirmed that it will be releasing a curved phone sometime next week in South Korea.
Both LG and Samsung currently sell curved OLED TV sets, and the global flexible display market, according to IHS Display Bank, will grow from $1.5 billion in 2016 to $10 billion by 2019. LG described its upcoming product as having “the world’s first flexible OLED panel for smartphones.” OLED, or organic light-emitting diode, is a high-resolution, high-contrast display. Samsung’s offering will be a special version of its Galaxy Note 3, which reportedly will be called the Galaxy Round.
LG said its screen will curve top-to-bottom rather than side-to-side, the same orientation Samsung indicated in a recent patent filing for its curved screen. LG said its panel uses a plastic substrate instead of glass, is “bendable and unbreakable” and, at 0.44 mm thin and 7.2 grams, is the slimmest and lightest of any existing mobile display. More importantly for user experience, the screen size is 6-inches, measured from top to bottom.
The ‘Big Bang’
But a screen that can be bent somewhat does not mean that either company will be releasing a foldable device, at least not soon. Ramon Llamas, Research Analyst for IDC Mobility, told NewsFactor.com that the “big bang” would be a foldable display that “goes back to the flip phone,” except that the opened screen would be mostly screen.
Until then, he said, a curved screen, even one that can bend a bit, is at best an “incremental added value.” A six-inch screen provides a significant increase in screen real estate, but it must be carried in a pocket at that size unless you can fold it.
The curved screens on the TV sets are intended to remove the problem of screen-edge distortion by making sure that all points on the screen are the same distance from a viewer’s eyes, but the appeal of a non-foldable, curved screen is less evident. One selling point will be its durability, given the plastic instead of glass substrate, plus such devices will undoubtedly be the envy of friends, at least for a while.
Curved Galaxy Gear
Samsung announced late last month its intent to release a curved version of the Note 3 in South Korea in October, although it has now specified next week. It is also expected to introduce a curved-screen version of its new smartwatch, the Galaxy Gear.
The handset maker, currently number one in the world, has been working on curved and bendable screens for some time, occasionally showing them at trade shows as works-in-progress. Most recently, the company showed several prototype products at a trade show in January that featured flexible or curved displays. In May, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office reported that Samsung had been granted a patent for a smartphone with a curved display.