Last week Patently Apple posted a report titled "Korean Report Wildly Speculates that LG is Working with Apple, Google & Microsoft to Deliver Foldable Devices by 2018." The report claimed that LG was working on both fold-in and fold-out display designs like the prototype from Lenovo presented below.
LG had been working with Canadian company Ignis Innovation on the technology that would allow the displays to bend. Today a new report has surfaced to reveal another major player in the foldable display market that predicts that devices with foldable displays will in fact begin to roll out in 2018 and take about 20% of the smartphone market by 2020 or sooner.
Kolon Industries, a chemical arm of Kolon Group, is currently the only company in the world that can mass produce colorless polyimide, a key technology for foldable devices as the flexible film can replace rigid glass sheets.
The company is reportedly supplying the materials to global tech firms including Samsung Electronics, LG Electronics and BOE.
Kang Chung-seok, the head of Kolon Industries' colorless polyimide division stated that "Around three to five tech companies are expected to mass produce foldable phones in 2018 globally.
Currently, most tech companies including Samsung, LG, BOE, Xiaomi, Sony and even Apple are moving away from liquid-crystal displays to organic light-emitting diode displays. This is because OLED can be flexible, as opposed to rigid liquid-crystal displays, enabling panels to be curved, foldable and even scrollable.
He predicted that the first foldable devices, which could possibly be released next year, will have a bend radius of 5 millimeters as opposed to market speculations of 1 millimeter.
Bend radius is the minimum radius something can be bent. The smaller the bend radius, the greater the material flexibility. When the bend radius is 1 millimeter, both sides of the panels can almost touched, as though they are completely folded.
"The bend radius of 1 millimeter is the most ideal but that may cause a safety issue. So, tech companies are likely to unveil the bend radius of 5 millimeters first and then gradually unveil devices with less bend radius," Kang added.
Kolon Industries' flexible colorless polyimide, which can replace rigid glass sheets, is expected to be used for most foldable devices in the near future. The Korean tech firm succeeded in the development of the technology this August and plans to mass produce films for around 100 million units of foldable devices in 2018.
Microsoft and Google would like nothing more than to deliver a first of its kind foldable smartphone to market ahead of Apple in order to push their new AI interfaces, which according to a new Gartner study, will take 20% of the market by 2019. I'm sure that Apple is aware of this potential threat and will respond accordingly.