Earlier this week, a video leaked online showing a Xiaomi flexible display prototype. The concept display leaked on Youku is a 30-second clip showing a display running MIUI skinned Android OS. The lower half of the phone is bent. The user is swiping smoothly through various apps.
Sense of deja vu?
This is not the first time that we have heard of bendable or flexible displays. LG and Samsung have released phones with curved displays. We have seen the LG G Flex and G Flex 2 phones, Samsung had also released the Galaxy Round some years ago. But we have seen with both these devices, the limit to which the flex could be applied. Barring the flexible displays, everything else in these phones was pretty much standard fare. With non-bendable internals and battery, there is only so much a flexible display can do.
From the prototypes seen this year, it looks like 2017 will see a fair share of flexible display smartphones as well. Lenovo had showcased its prototype which you can wrap around your wrist and Samsung’s concept is looking at a 2017 releasemost likely at MWC 2017. We had seen this Samsung flexible display prototype ad three years ago, but have yet to
see a consumer product.
No enhancements to user experience
Till the underlying components also allow flex mechanism, the potential of flexible display smartphones is going to be limited. The circuit board for instance cannot be flexed in its current form. While the flexible display market is expected to be worth $3.89bn by 2020, it is safe to assume that smartphones will not be a major component of that.
If that were the case, LG wouldn’t have stopped the G Flex variant release this year. Samsung Galaxy Round would have been in its third generation by now.
In its current form, smartphones with flexible displays wear out their novelty value pretty quick. After fawning over the design, it is ultimately the usability that matters. Flexible displays on smartphones aren’t serving any purpose in their current forms. Moreover, phones with bendable displays do not really improve your overall user experience in any way. Not to mention the tricky way in which you have to place them in your pockets. To that extent, it seems like innovation for the sake of it, at least on the smartphone platform.
One analogy that I can think of is those air-gesture features on smartphones, wherein waving your hand made you swipe photos in an albu, or blowing air on the handset would wake it up. It all looks good on the marketing slide, but why are we not seeing that feature on flagships any more?
Flexible batteries
As we have mentioned before, battery life is still one of the most important features for a lot of smartphone buyers. Keeping in mind the trend towards flexible displays, this is one news that I found much more interesting than the Xiaomi display leak.
Panasonic battery
Image: Panasonic
Panasonic has announced flexible lithium-ion batteries that are just 0.55mm thick. It can be used in card-type or wearable devices. This battery can retain its charge and characteristics even when flexed by an angle of 25 degrees or twisted to a radius of 25mm. According to Panasonic, the battery can withstand bending and twisting beyond Japanese Industrial Standards for ID cards.
The battery does not manipulate charging and discharging cycles despite repeated bending or twisting, says Panasonic. The applications this battery is looking at are within smart cards, wearables, smart clothing and so on.
Such a battery when paired with a flexible display could revolutionise the way we look at flexible displays. Of course, it will need to be accompanied by having flex characteristics on smartphone innards as well.
That is a long term process. But flexible batteries are a start in the right direction.