Apple is apparently looking for next-gen flexible LCD screen technology from Japan Display to use in future iPhone models. According to the Wall Street Journal, Apple is ‘considering’ the new panels for future iPhone designs which could pave the way for bendable smartphones becoming mainstream.
Japan Display’s technology uses LCD and plastic rather than the typical LCD and glass, which makes it able to flex and bend as shown in the photo above (left).
Japan Display says the screens will be mass produced from 2018 but don’t get your hopes up that a bendable iPhone will make its debut next year. For starters, the report says that display makers are still ‘far away’ from a mass-producible display that consumers could freely flex with their hands. Moreover, Making an iPhone bendable is much more than just finding a flexible display panel.
The bending screen in the photo is just that, a screen. To make an iPhone bendable, Apple would have to work out how to make internal components flexible enough as well. This is a big feat as the current hardware relies on many rigid components to function, the rigid battery is a big obstacle to making a flexible iPhone a reality. (Reports from other sources have claimed that Samsung will debut a bendable smartphone later this year although it is likely to be quite limited in how it can bend — if it exists at all.)
For the time being, expect these kind of panels to be used in form factors like the Galaxy Edge where the screen curves around the edges. The big deal from a manufacturing perspective with Japan Display’s announcement is that it is an LCD panel rather than OLED. It is likely cheaper to manufacture than flexible OLED panels as it largely relies on existing production lines.
The news is interestingly timed. Apple is expected to unveil a brand new iPhone later this year, sporting an OLED screen, and a major chassis redesign. The device is rumored to use an all-glass appearance with almost no bezels on the front. However, that does not mean that the company will stick to OLED long term. If flexible LCD panels catch on, the company will use the best screen technology available at the time.