Curved Smartphone Displays Embark on Circuitous Path to Success at CES

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LG Electronics’ announcement today that it will ship a curved smartphone using a flexible display to the U.S. market in the first quarter stirred excitement at the International CES 2014.

However, technical challenges related to the manufacturing of flexible active-matrix organic light-emitting diode (AMOLED) displays mean it will take several years before curved phones and panels are manufactured in high volumes, according to IHS (NYSE: IHS).

Global shipments of flexible AMOLED display panels for smartphones are expected to amount to 814,000 units in 2014, based on data from the OLED Displays Market Tracker – Q4 2013, a report from the IHS Display Materials and Components service.

Shipments will remain limited in 2015, 2016 and 2017, reaching only 1.9 million, 4.5 million and 8.3 million, respectively, during those years. Even so, shipments will nearly double every year within the period.

The attached figure presents the IHS global forecast of shipments of flexible AMOLED panels for use in cellphones.

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“As shown by the announcement of the G Flex today from LG, there’s a great deal of interest from the industry and the marketplace in the use of flexible display technology in smartphones,” said Vinita Jakhanwal, director of mobile and emerging displays and technology at IHS. “However, initial production is likely to be curtailed by numerous pending technical issues related to producing flexible AMOLED displays. As these issues are resolved—and the cost of flexible AMOLED declines—shipments will rise in the coming years.”

LG throws a curve at the market

At a packed event attended by thousands of media representatives, LG showed the G Flex, a smartphone with a 6-inch curved AMOLED.

The curved form factor of the G Flex delivers ergonomic benefits by fitting the shape of users’ faces when they are speaking on the phone. They design also improves sound quality by placing the microphone closer to the mouth and the speaker nearer to the ear. Moreover, the large, curved screen delivers what LG describes as a “cinematic viewing experience” when watching video.

Getting on the growth curve

LG is manufacturing its curved AMOLED based on either a 4.5-generation or a 6th-generation plastic substrate in its AP2 E2 line.

LG rival Samsung Display also has started mass production of flexible displays for mobile applications in 2013. The company is producing flexible AMOLED screens based on a 5.5G plastic substrate in the A2 Ph3 line.

The major challenge in producing flexible AMOLED displays is finding a material that can replace glass and is optically superior while achieving a stable manufacturing process. This drives up cost because of materials used and processes employed to achieve stabilized production.

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