Patent Bolt began covering Samsung's patent applications for foldable devices/displays back in September 2011. We noted in a December 2012 report that it was becoming a trend in IP filings from Samsung, Microsoft, Sony and others. Months earlier we had noted that Samsung filed for a patent involving a tri-fold flexible/foldable display device. So how real is this IP trend? To make it crystal clear, Kwon Oh-hyeon, vice-chairman and CEO, Samsung Electronics, stated during an analyst meeting that they "would lead innovation by introducing the 'foldable' display in 2015." We considered that statement a starting gun firing to kick start a new race for next generation smartphone and tablet form factors. As the New Year kicked off, Samsung was behind closed doors at CES 2014 showing off their next generation foldable display products.
According to a new report, Samsung Display showcased the world's first foldable display to targeted VIPs at the Encore Hotel in Las Vegas, U.S. during the CES 2014. The secret meetings showcased a foldable display prototype strongly suggests that Samsung is either on schedule or ahead of their scheduled launch in late 2015.
Samsung Display mass produced a first generation flexible display last year as the Galaxy Round which hasn't been received very well to date. To up the ante, the next version of flexible display was thought to be one that could roll up and spread out like a scroll, claims the report. However, it now appears that Samsung Display may have decided to advance their roadmap and leap directly to the foldable display. Considering Samsung's secret CES meetings involved foldable displays, the speculation appears to be justified. In fact, the report went to claim that "as foldable TSP display requires quite a level of technological power, Samsung Display's advanced technology took the attendants at the event by surprise."
The report further stated that Samsung Display showcased the foldable display which included an active-matrix (AM) organic light emitting diode (OLED) created by using a plastic substrate measuring 5.68" in size. Made with a film-like polyimide (PI) substrate, this display is thin and folds like paper.
What is noteworthy is that Samsung Display has even applied a touch screen panel (TSP) to this display. Samsung Display, according to sources, has applied TSP, which is made using a single layer metal mesh material. The new metal mesh was first revealed in a Korean report last month.
Currently, Galaxy Round uses an indium tin oxide (ITO) film. However, the foldable display cannot be applied with ITO. Therefore, Samsung Display must have opted for the metal mesh material that ensures bending property. ITO breaks easily and the conductivity decreases as resistance in the bent surface rises sharply. In addition, a display applied with a single-layer TSP is solved of the problem where a rupture is formed in between sensor layers when the display is bent.
However, industry insiders are a little skeptical by saying that in order to commercialize a foldable display, we need to be ensured that there's enough restoring force to prevent any functional and performance-related problems when the display is folded and opened thousands of times.
Just how much of the Korean report is actually real and how much is propaganda or advanced marketing to help calm markets down over the news that Samsung missed their Q4 financial targets remains to be seen. However, there's a lot riding on the success of Samsung Display's leap to foldable displays and only time will tell if they'll be able to score another innovative first for team Samsung.