Foldable displays: a technology whose time is coming

Samsung folding display
Samsung's Galaxy Fold is one of the earliest foldable displays (Samsung).

The concept of foldable displays in tablets, smartphones, and notebooks has garnered curiosity from industry observers and some techno-geeks in recent years. So far, demand hasn’t exactly been robust, and the technology has been experiencing some growing pains.

But at least one prognosticator expects this technology to grow by leaps and bounds in coming years. A report by market research firm Display Supply Chain Consultants (DSCC), titled 2019 Foldable Display Market Update and Outlook Report, projects unit shipments of foldable display panels to rise from 360,000 in 2019 to over 68 million units by 2023, for a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 272%. Sales revenue from foldable displays are expected to grow at a 242% CAGR from $62 million in 2019 to $8.4 billion in 2023.

There’s a lot of development activity underway in foldable displays already. According to DSCC, Samsung, Huawei, Lenovo/Motorola, Xiaomi, Oppo, Vivo, TCL, Google, Sony, and Apple are some of the companies with roadmaps to produce foldable devices.

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But as DSCC hints, some of the early efforts in foldable displays have met with mixed success. For instance, Samsung was slated to launch its Galaxy Fold earlier this summer, according to an article on the tech site Tech.Co. However, the article noted that problems such as cracked screens and broken hinges in pre-launch devices forced Samsung to push back the launch date.  

According to DSCC, technologies such as ultra-thin glass (UTG) and clamshells are expected to play a big role in future foldable displays. The report notes that a number of foldable displays from Samsung will use ultra-thin glass, starting in 2020. DSCC expects Samsung to launch 2-3 products in 2020 with UTG with an aggressive folding radius while enjoying the scratch resistance and hardness of glass as well as the touch experience consumers have grown accustomed to.

The foldable displays are expected to find their way into clamshells--a technology used in many mobile phones prior to smartphones. Now, clamshells are expected to make a comeback by being designed into newer smartphones. According to DSCC, smartphones with clamshell form factors offer a smaller seam, smaller hinge, higher yields, and reduced risk. Motorola, Samsung, and several other makers are slated to introduce clamshell smartphones starting next year, with clamshell technology accounting for a 60% unit share of the foldable smartphone market between 2020 and 2023.

Despite some early missteps, DSCC expects Samsung to take the lead in foldable smartphone penetration and maintain the highest share through the forecast as it looks to establish this category and introduce the most products. The second largest Huawei will be #2 until Apple enters the market which is forecasted to happen in 2022. Huawei’s upcoming Mate X is expected to have a folding display.

DSCC also noted that the 7 in. size will likely become the most popular folding display size. It is considered a sweet spot for clamshell, in-folding and out-folding. Other popular sizes are expected to 6 and 13 in., says DSCC.



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