LG and Samsung give Apple a case of the bends

8 October 2013 by Steve Blum
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LG and Samsung muscle their flex.

LG and Samsung are firing press releases at each other, each claiming to have the first flexible OLED smartphone screen. Samsung teased their new technology at CES earlier this year, while LG unveiled its flex screen yesterday. Regardless of who is first, it’ll create marketing buzz for both companies as they build speed through the fall selling season.

A flexible screen means you can do cool things with design, like offering more useable screen real estate in more interesting ways. Putting text and images along the edge of the device is one example. Getting away from the standard slab form factor is another. Flexible screens can be used to wrap phones around wrists, and allow smartphone design to go from two physical dimensions to three. Giving designers a third dimension to work with will unlock imagination and innovation.

Flexibility means OLEDs will continue to be the screen technology of choice for high end smartphones. The basic OLED/LCD trade-offs, such as power consumption versus lifetime versus resolution aren’t changing. But flexible design is possible to accomplish with OLED technology and not with LCDs, so it’s an unambiguous competitive advantage at the high end of the market. Even if someone is working on flexible LCDs somewhere – I’m willing to be someone is – it’ll be awhile before flexible LCD screens show up in products.

Particularly Apple products. With its ho hum fall product announcements well astern, there’s no reason to think Apple will have flexible screen products in the market this year, or even early next year.

If Samsung and LG deliver on their promises, Apple’s designs could look ancient by Christmas.