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Device Makers Adopt Flexible Screens

SEOUL—Manufacturers of small- and medium-sized displays are shifting from rigid organic light-emitting diode panels for smartphones and wearable devices, to flexible active-matrix-organic-light-emitting diode panels, or AMOLEDs, according to IHS.

In particular, Samsung Display and LG Display are pursuing enhanced technological differentiation for LCD panels, in order to expand the supply capacity of flexible AMOLED displays. Flexible AMOLED panel shipments are forecast to amount to more than 11 percent of rigid AMOLED shipments this year.

“When growth in the smartphone market started to slow in 2013, smartphone makers began to adopt lower-priced, higher-quality panels and AMOLED displays lost their competitive edge,” said Jerry Kang, principal analyst, emerging display technologies and OLED panels. “Leading panel manufacturers are now developing flexible AMOLED displays to differentiate their offerings from rigid LCD and AMOLED displays used in smartphones and wearable devices. These panels are especially useful in wearable devices, which must be light, thin and consume less power than non-wearable devices.”

Declining prices for low-temperature polysilicon LCD displays has quickly undermined the price competitiveness of AMOLED panels. “Smartphone makers were unhappy with the price of AMOLED panels, because higher-priced pentile-pixel AMOLED displays had lower sharpness than LTPS LCD displays with same resolution,” Kang said. “As the wide color gamut of AMOLED displays has not been a major differentiation factor in the smartphone panel market, current AMOLED panels will eventually lose their appeal, unless prices decline further.”

To cope with these market conditions, and to differentiate their offerings, AMOLED panel makers are now offering flexible displays. For example in 2013, LG Electronics launched the G Flex and Samsung Electronics launched the Galaxy Round. In 2014, the companies introduced the G Flex 2 and the Galaxy Note Edge, respectively. Samsung’s latest flexible display smartphone model, the Galaxy S6 Edge, was unveiled earlier this year.

Flexible OLED-based products are not fully differentiated from the ones using conventional rigid, flat, mobile handset and smartwatch panels. Now with curved, bendable and edge AMOLED display designs, panel form factors are truly differentiated; however, they have not been actively used to offer new functions or to provide an extended-user experience.

“Flexible OLED panels are used to add value, and as a way to differentiate products from traditional rigid panels,” Kang said. “Flexible OLED panel makers should now focus on providing a more advanced form factor—and a better user experience—than what is available in current products.”