Demand for flexible displays is set to undergo massive growth during the next seven years, with a broad variety of applications—ranging from smartphones to giant screens mounted on buildings—driving a nearly 250 times expansion in shipments from 2013 through 2020.
Global shipments of flexible displays are projected to soar to 792 million units in 2020, up from 3.2 million in 2013, according to a new IHS report entitled “Flexible Display Technology and Market Forecast.” Market revenue will rise to $41.3 billion, up from just $100,000 during the same period.
“Flexible displays hold enormous potential, creating whole new classes of products and enabling exciting new applications that were impractical or impossible before,” said Vinita Jakhanwal, director for mobile and emerging displays and technology at IHS. “From smartphones with displays that curve around the sides, to smart watches with wraparound screens, to tablets and PCs with roll-out displays, to giant video advertisements on curved building walls, the potential uses for flexible displays will be limited only by the imagination of designers.”
IHS classifies flexible displays into four generations of technology. The first generation is the durable display panels that are now entering the market. These panels employ a flexible substrate to attain superior thinness and unbreakable ruggedness. However, these displays are flat and cannot be bent or rolled.
Second-generation flexible displays are bendable and conformable, and can be molded to curved surfaces, maximizing space on small form-factor products like smartphones.
The third generation consists of truly flexible and rollable displays that can be manipulated by end users. These displays will enable a new generation of devices that save space and blur the lines separating traditional product categories, such as smartphones and media tablets.
The fourth generation consists of disposable displays that cost so little that they can serve as a replacement for paper.
With their thin, light and unbreakable nature, flexible displays initially are expected to be used in smaller-sized products, such as mobile phones and MP3 players. However, once large-size displays are available, flexible technology will be used in bigger screen-size platforms, such as laptops, monitors and televisions.
The largest application for flexible displays during the next several years will be personal electronic devices. This segment will be led by smartphones, with shipments climbing to 351 million units by 2020, up from less than 2 million this year.
Flexible stars at SID
Flexible displays were a major topic at the Society for Information Display (SID) Display Week event in Vancouver in May.
During an SID keynote address, Kinam Kim, president and CEO of Samsung Display Co., discussed his company’s flexible organic light-emitting diode (OLED) display technology. Kim said that the technology will be suitable for wearable electronics devices like Google Glass.
Also at SID, LG Display showed a 5-inch OLED panel constructed out of plastic that was both flexible and unbreakable.
Furthermore, Corning at SID showed its Willow Glass, which can be used as with both OLEDs and liquid-crystal displays (LCD) in mobile devices such as smart phones, tablets and notebook PCs. Because of its thinness, strength and flexibility, Willow Glass could enable future displays to be wrapped around a device or a structure.
IHS predicts OLEDs will be the leading flexible display technology during every year for the foreseeable future, accounting for 64 percent of shipments in 2020.