Way back in the fall of 2011 -- a lifetime ago in the tech world -- a top Samsung official, Robert Yi, told investors that a new type of technology, flexible displays, would likely be part of the next generation of smartphones the following year.
Well, 2012 came and went and Samsung still hasn't marketed a prototype with such an OLED display, although the technology is already workable. Nokia, too, has dabbled in the technology, showing off models that same year, and Sony has had workable models of a paper-thin bendable display as far back as 2007.
Lo and behold, bendable display talk is back at this week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the site of much talk about products that may or may not make it to the consumer market, and Samsung has dropped a new trademark name on the table: Youm.
Plastic Instead of Glass
That's what Samsung is calling its line of bendable displays for smartphones and tablets. In a keynote address, Stephen Woo, president of Samsung's System LSI Business, Device Solutions Division, and Brian Berkeley, senior vice president of Samsung Display, showed off the latest prototypes of devices with a bendable organic light-emitting diode (OLED) display, and a Microsoft executive, Chief Technical Strategy Officer Eric Rudder, even displayed a working Windows Phone device with such a display.
"Our team was able to make a high-resolution display on extremely thin plastic instead of glass, so it won't break even if it's dropped," said Berkeley, according to Samsung's release on the event. "This new form factor will really begin to change how people interact with their devices, opening up new lifestyle possibilities...[and] allow our partners to create a whole new ecosystem of devices."
While there is a definite "wow" factor for bendable displays, something truly new in the mobile arena, it remains to be seen if consumers will be drawn to it, or comfortable enough in its durability to take chances in owning one.
"Samsung and a few other vendors have been teasing the market for some time on flexible displays but so far as I can see, their yapping hasn't done much to create buzz around the idea, let alone actual demand," said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.
"The more attention they receive, the more flexible displays look like a classic 'solution in search of a problem.' Unless Samsung and other involved parties can define some compelling need or use case, flexible displays are likely to become one of those long-discussed yet quickly forgotten misadventures."
Samsung also used the presentation to showcase energy-saving features of its displays, saying the 10.1-inch Nexus 10 tablet's 2560x1600 resolution and 300 pixels per inch picture uses only 75 percent of the juice of previous displays. The goal for coming models is to reduce consumption an additional 25 percent.