The next Samsung smartphone to hit the market could have a flexible screen that's unbreakable, delivering the first truly foldable handset.
The Korean electronics giant said Wednesday that its recently developed smartphone panel has been certified by Underwriters Laboratories, meaning it's ready for shipping to consumers in actual devices. Samsung said it expects the new panel to have applications in non-phone markets as well, such as automobiles, mobile military devices and portable game consoles, among others.
Samsung's efforts to make a foldable phone come as demand for smartphones slows down. It's getting harder for handset makers to differentiate their devices, and consumers don't feel the need to upgrade as often. In the fourth quarter, overall smartphone unit sales fell for the first time ever, according to Gartner.
The flexible OLED panel is constructed of an unbreakable substrate with an overlay window adhered to it, Samsung said. Flexible displays currently commercially available tend to shatter when subjected to severe impact.
That apparently won't occur with Samsung's new screen.
"The fortified plastic window is especially suitable for portable electronic devices not only because of its unbreakable characteristics, but also because of its lightweight, transmissivity and hardness, which are all very similar to glass," Hojung Kim, a spokesperson for Samsung Display Company, said in a statement.
The display passed rigorous durability tests, Samsung said, including being dropped 26 times in a row from a height of nearly 4 feet and continued to function normally, suffering no damage to its front, sides or edges.
All of Samsung's flagship phones now have flexible, curved displays, but the screen could lay the groundwork for foldable phones. ZTE's 2017 Axon M has two screens that fold out into a tablet and are connected by a hinge, but Samsung is widely expected to release a device that will be a truly foldable phone with one flexible OLED display and no hinge.
Samsung is in competition with Huawei to claim first in the race to release such a foldable phone. Samsung Mobile President DJ Koh has gone on the record to talk about the company's plans for a foldable Galaxy phone and has previously told reporters to expect a folding phone as early as this year.
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