A Vision of the Future in 2013? Flexible Phone Rumors Continue Apace

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Will Samsung sell flexible phones in 2013?

At the giant electronics convention, CES 2011, Samsung showed off their flexible AMOLED displays to great fanfare. Soon after, rumors ran rampant flexible displays would be available in 2012. The year brought many things, but a flexy Samsung phone was not one of them. Well, if you’ve got flexible phone fever, never fear. Word is we may get a look at these phones commercially in 2013. Maybe.

Why might you want a flexible phone? The flexible part may be the least attractive attribute. What’s best about the materials used to make flexible displays is their toughness—AMOLEDs are printed on plastic substrates that are less prone to scratching and cracking than their glass counterparts. Additionally, AMOLED displays are thinner, consume less power, and provide better color.

The technology itself isn’t particularly new. Samsung already uses AMOLED displays in its Galaxy smartphones. However, though their screens are flexible, these devices must be rigid because the rest of their components are.

So, will Samsung’s upcoming offering pair a flexible display with flexible components (battery, processor, etc.) for a fully bendible phone? It's possible. The technology exists. Graphene, an ultra-thin sheet of carbon atoms arranged in a lattice, is a prime candidate for flexible electronics.

In a BBC interview, Professor Andrea Ferrari of Cambridge Graphene Lab says, “If you think ten years backwards, in 2002, graphene was not there. You know, we didn’t even think about it. So, it’s such a fast moving field that we don’t know where we’re going to be in a few years time.”

The truth is, no one really knows what Samsung or any of the other electronics firms (LG, Philips, Sharp, Sony, and Nokia) rumored to be working on flexible phones are planning. We’ll have to wait and see next year.

But whether we have flexible phones or not is somewhat beside the point. Dreaming down the road a bit, there are larger, more exciting applications for flexible electronics.

Even cooler than phones would be an all-in-one device. Imagine an ultra-thin 40" bendable screen with flexible graphene components—not unlike these 0.3mm thick e-ink newspapers (of dubious value) or this 80 micron Sony OLED display. Such a thin flexible device could serve as a TV that rolls up in the corner or displays your favorite work of art (à la back to Future II) when sitting idle.

Or going a step further, maybe the device folds neatly into a tablet or phone—equally comfortable on the wall or in your pocket. The device has a wireless internet connection and is charged by inductive wallpaper. And no need for a keyboard and mouse, the interface is entirely gesture controlled by motion sensing technology.

Of course, the future itself is flexible and prone to upset even the simplest prognostications. Maybe physical displays will be made obsolete by holographic displays. Or maybe the technology will interface directly with our brains sooner than we think. Maybe all of the above, each one a step ahead of the previous.

A bendy phone seems a touch gimmicky, but the technology itself has great potential. Time to get past the hype already and see some real world applications.

Jason Dorrier

Jason is managing editor of Singularity Hub. He cut his teeth doing research and writing about finance and economics before moving on to science, technology, and the future. He is curious about pretty much everything, and sad he'll only ever know a tiny fraction of it all.

Discussion — 9 Responses

  • vmagna December 26, 2012 on 2:09 am

    They can take their sweet time with those billions then let’s leapfrog them using 3D printers, crowdsourcing and funding. Quantum dots anyone?

    • jabros vmagna December 26, 2012 on 1:03 pm

      I’m up for that!

    • Matthew vmagna December 28, 2012 on 11:34 am

      YES!! 🙂

  • TustinFocus December 26, 2012 on 5:55 pm

    If this flexible technology merely produces a phone that is more comfortable in my pants pocket, that is enough for me. I suspect that alone would make it a “killer” feature that would become a “must have” for “top tier” phones like Google’s flagship phones (Nexus series) and the iPhone. If it does become a must have feature, there’s sure to be a patent war soon thereafter.

  • Víťa Dolejší December 27, 2012 on 3:24 am

    I see some potencial problems with flexible electronics, especially cell phones. I simply cant imagine, these phones will endure all things people would do with them long enough to live over their warranty period. Ok, flexible electronic can bend, but how many times? And how long time of crumpling up in pocket will it withstand before permanently change its shape? And what will the warranty return policy say on origami made of flexible phone? And if there would be condition to not fold up the device, what exactly “fold up” means? Which angle and how sharp bend is yet acceptable and what is beyond the limit? Legal departments would heve a lot of extra work… Other problem – will typing on flexible surface be comfortable enough? Imagine sliding web pages with your finger, when the surface is constantly waving and changing its schape. These problems can be surely eliminated, but it can be the reason why it takes so long…

  • Matthew December 28, 2012 on 11:28 am

    “A bendy phone seems a touch gimmicky, but the technology itself has great potential. Time to get past the hype already and see some real world applications.”

    I kno rite. se la vie. the story of our lives. how bout getting past the hype of the richest 1% reaping 99.9% of the wealth of the economic entities which are the culmination of all of our ancestors labor, suffering, and dying?

    would be nice to get global famine, disease, environmental issues, continental sized aquifers drained, plastic waste in the oceans, and air pollution under control–for the marginal costs it would take to implement EXISTING solutions… let’s get that hype or mass hysteria rather under control then talk about bendy phones and whatever else we can enhance. rather absurd that some of the largest corporations pay literally zero taxes. ya know, like instead of puttting the tax burden on the weakest peoples in society.

    of all people i am extremely optimistic about the future and enraptured with flourishing technologies, computation, and other exponentials. reading the book, “Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think.” provided some desperately needed affirmation that good things are happening, but even they admit that so many issues hinge on public awareness and consensus building and SLOW moving legislation. but still you would be amazed at the sweeping changes happening in recent years like coka cola getting drinking water to all of africa with new filtration techniques (as predicted by J. Storrs Hall in the book ‘beyond ai: creating the conscience of the machine–that is corporate AI rise above military and educational ai’s providing the most for humanity).

    here is the problem. “negativity bias” in the media exploits our over active amygdala–fight or flight, fear and anger. now we’ve had enough nukes for 50-60 years to destroy the entire biosphere and haven’t yet so as time progresses we bear witness to increasingly awesome things… but honestly…

    our impulses innately make our aversion to danger more powerful than our inclination/faith in good things. we tend to remember the negative. and it doesn’t help that literally ALL the networks constantly press that fear/panic button (even when they have pertinent info good toward humanitarian/environmental/social causes). unless some major mainstream news outlet like perhaps the future of this website comes out and exploits our brain’s ability to empathise (mirror neurons maybe?) and plan (frontal cortex) than i don’t see us all making it to utopia. there are after all still 1 billion people starving and we’ve had the technology and funds to do something about that for like 10 years.

    anyways… try to be aware of the information while not being clouded by fear and anger as i have been. think about what new types of news media that actually inspire, create, and innovate might look like, and be prepared to watch big brother corporations arise to usher humanity into a new utopia as our benevolent benefactors. We need to forgive our oppressors, and show them that it’s actually in their best economic interest to be “the rational optimist”s. cuz 7 billion people with 100% market demand for things like water and food and an environment that sustains life is an inconceivably vast gold mine of profits. Love you all. Happy new year! Hang in there, we’re almost there.

    • fireofenergy Matthew January 4, 2013 on 7:46 pm

      The technology, while perhaps gimicky, shall introduce new ways to manufacture more important things… Like all those advanced 3D printers needed to mass produce the 100,000 square miles of solar panel (and adjacent batteries) needed to create mega install jobs (and avert XSCO2).

      • Francis Short fireofenergy February 22, 2013 on 8:35 pm

        Global warming crap

        • fireofenergy Francis Short February 23, 2013 on 9:37 am

          That’s weird! (people afraid of clean energy)… lol
          Oh, I know you’re afraid of carbon taxes… SO AM I that’s why everyone needs to know! It’s easier to imagine a solution than to fight it. (search infrared absorber).