Samsung Demos Stretchable OLED Display

Samsung is one of the first manufacturers to make OLED screen technology a viable option for consumer electronics, and today it makes the best panels on the market. It’s been showing off flexible AMOLED panels for years, but now it’s demoing something new: stretchable OLEDs. Instead of simply bending and flexing, you can change the shape and size of these panels without distorting the image.

Samsung unveiled the prototype display at Display Week 2017 in Los Angeles. The OLED panel is 9.1-inches, which is in the size range for a tablet. The larger size also helps show off the impressive stretching capabilities. What sets this apart from other flexible displays shown off in the past is that it can be deformed in two directions. It can bend, but also become convex or concave.

This panel is elastic enough to recover from repeated stretching, but it’s important to remember that this is a demo. A flexible screen you sell to people needs to remain elastic for years, but this prototype only needs to last through a week-long conference. In fact, most of the “flexible” display technology we have now has only gone toward forming curved screens. They don’t bend after manufacturing.

Samsung currently sells a number of phones with curved displays like the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus. The curved variants of past phones sold better than the flat ones, so Samsung isn’t even making a flat version of the GS8. Maybe in the future you’ll be able to get a Galaxy smartphone that can stretch, too.

Samsung’s prototype has one interesting bonus that current curved and flexible panels don’t have — it can adjust the image to eliminate distortion. This only works for up to 12mm (about half an inch) of stretching, after which the image will no longer look “flat.” Samsung would not comment on how far the display was capable of stretching, but presumably it’s more than 12mm.

The hope is that stretchable OLEDs could become useful in devices where screens need to be compact or unusual shapes. For example, wearables and IoT products. You could also alter interfaces when a display stretches — like 3D Touch that’s actually 3D. There are also plentiful gaming applications. All that is probably off in the indeterminate future, though. It took several years for curved displays to move from trade show demo to real product, and this technology will probably take even longer.

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