Corning wants in on the Folding Smartphone Race and is only a Few Years out from delivering a Folding Glass Breakthrough
Both Samsung and Huawei introduced next generation foldable smartphones this month generating a lot of buzz across the media landscape. If you noticed, the press wasn't allowed to touch these new foldable smartphones to get a hands-on feel. In a new report by Wired posted today we learn from Motorola who worked on a folding smartphone that users will easily scratch these new foldable plastic displays. They'll start to die the day you unpack it, Motorola Executive Dan Derry told Engadget in a recent report. The Wired article adds: "the display deviates from the glass cover that the past decade has conditioned smartphone owners to expect. They’ve largely confirmed, though, that the difference is noticeable. It will only become more so over time." When you think of the price for these new foldable phones from $2,000 to $2600 +, the last thing consumers will want is an easily scratchable display. Now Corning is saying that a foldable glass breakthrough may be around the corner.
The Good news is that Corning has developed a next-gen highly bendable glass as noted in the video and photos below.
Wired reports that "Corning is working on ultrathin, bendable glass that’s 0.1 millimeters thick and can bend to a 5 millimeter radius. The trick, though, is to achieve that kind of pinch without losing the toughness that makes glass great to begin with.
Corning's John Bayne, who heads up Corning’s Gorilla Glass business told Wired that "The back of the problem we’re trying to break, the technical challenge, is, can you keep those tight 3- to 5-millimeter bend radii and also increase the damage resistance of the glass. That’s the trajectory we’re on."
John Mauro, a professor of materials science and engineering at Penn State University who had previously spent 18 years at Corning says that plastic display covers are easier to scratch and ding up. And unlike glass, plastic will crease over time, leaving you with a large unfolding display, sure, but one bisected with an unsightly wrinkle.
Samsung claims its Infinity Flex Display can withstand hundreds of thousands of openings and closings.
In testing, customers either want protection in a drop event or a tighter bending radius. Corning can do one or the other but isn't at this time able to do both which is the goal. Corning thinks their solution, if found, may take a few years to achieve.
While Corning is working on their solution, Apple continues to patent specialized foldable display coatings and methods of heating the fold area of smartphone display so that it won't crack in the winter or refrigerated areas.
While the press has questioned why Apple isn't in the foldable smartphone market yet, the press doesn't see past their nose at times and neither do analysts who have no idea of the problems that might lie ahead for the first few generations of folding smartphones. Being first with a foldable smartphone is meaningless. Getting it right is really the measure consumers are looking for.
Apple is wise to wait it out until folding displays are perfected. Either plastic displays will be made much harder to scratch or glass will bend enough to make them viable. For now, the foldable smartphone is a cool concept that might not be ready for prime time as Samsung and Huawei have led us to believe.
For more on this story, read the full Wired article here.
For the record, in May 2017 Patently Apple posted a report titled "Apple Awards Corning First Investment from their Advanced Manufacturing Fund as Promised." If any smartphone company is going to get access to Corning's next-gen foldable glass for testing, we could be assured that Apple is on that short list of Corning customers.
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