By Yoon Sung-won
Foldable smartphones will be available by 2019 as both its manufacturing capabilities and market demand are ready for them, according to a Samsung Display engineer, Thursday.
Expectations are high that the foldable displays will enter the mainstream market in two years, led by the current boom of bezel-free displays and flexible organic light-emitting diode (OLED) displays.
"I agree that foldable OLED displays may be released by 2019," Samsung Display's principal engineer Kim Tae-woong said during a recent meeting hosted by the Korea Display Industry Association (KDIA).
"It took 10 years for the rigid OLED to become the norm in the display industry. Flexible and round OLEDs also needed the same amount of time," he said. "A foldable OLED will mark its 10th anniversary by 2019 and the technology will be mature by then."
HI Investment & Securities analyst Chung Won-seok concurred. "Samsung Display is expected to commercialize foldable phones in 2019."
There has been a rumor that Samsung Electronics will unveil a prototype foldable smartphone, dubbed the "Galaxy X," by the third quarter of this year. The company also allegedly showcased the prototype exclusively to some selected clients during the Mobile World Congress 2017 in Barcelona in February.
Though the release timeline of Samsung's foldable device has not been proven, the electronics industry worldwide has shown high hopes over it as foldable displays are expected to change the conventional paradigm of mobile devices' hardware form.
For this reason, many global smartphone makers including LG Electronics, Nokia, Microsoft and Chinese brands have pushed to develop foldable handsets.
"Once flexible or rollable displays are applied to smartphones, they will be free from limits of form and size. This means that they can replace larger devices such as tablet computers, laptops and even billboards," an industry source said.
Global market researcher Strategy Analytics projected that Samsung Display will be the first to commercialize foldable displays for smartphones.
Samsung Display said the exact timeline for the commercialization of devices with foldable displays is up to Samsung Electronics.
"Samsung Electronics, as our client, will give us specific requirements for the new display products such as brightness, color volume and how many times the display can be folded. We may start producing the products under such specifications," a Samsung Display spokesman said. "Samsung Electronics will determine when and how we release a foldable display."
Another perspective is that Samsung will not rush to release foldable displays before the market demand is ripe for them.
Samsung Display has maintained its leadership in the flexible display sector by hitting its bendable "Edge" displays for Samsung Electronics' Galaxy S series and Note series smartphones. The company has also provided its bendable OLED displays to Apple for next-generation iPhones.
Its latest bendable display used for the Galaxy S8 has also drawn favorable responses even before the launch of the handset, thanks to its bezel-less design.
Once a foldable display is released, however, bendable displays are likely to lose their charms to attract consumers.
"Samsung Display is already making more than 20 percent of its operating profit by selling bezel-less displays," the HI Investment analyst said. "It is not likely for the company to commercialize a foldable smartphone display before 2019."