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TECH: First Foldable Smartphones To Be Launched This Year
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First Foldable Smartphones To Be Launched This Year
By Fanny Bates

BT 201807 TECH 01      现如今,手机市场似乎陷入了泥潭,无论全面屏还是高性能,始终没有逃出“手机”这个框,再没有激进的设计引得人们的讨论。但是,这并非各大手机公司未能投入研发,事实上,对可折叠手机的研发从未停止。自2011年以来,三星一直在稳步推进柔性屏手机技术的开发。2013年,它开发了采用弧形屏幕的Galaxy Round,2015年推出了Galaxy Edge系列,2016年展示可卷曲OLED屏幕,将其作为“Project Valley”(Galaxy X的开发代号)项目的一部分。自那以后,就有报道称Galaxy X即将推出。Galaxy X被认为是三星的首款可折叠屏手机,此前,已经先后现身蓝牙组织、韩国无线电委员会等。该款手机将“继续通过采用可折叠OLED屏幕等尖端技术来实现旗下智能手机的差异化。”

      就在今年五月,手机行业的老品牌摩托罗拉的一项专利得到了批准,该专利描述了一款可折叠设备。有意思的是,除了设备本身可折叠,摩托罗拉还给它增加了一个屏幕保护壳。可见老品牌也没有放弃对新型手机的研发。

      除了手机厂家,材料公司也在探索这方面的可能性。日本住友化学24日发布新闻稿宣布,已研发出利用喷墨法(印刷方式)生产高分子OLED面板的技术,藉由该技术可生产出分辨率达423ppi的OLED面板(使用370x470mm尺寸的玻璃基板),其分辨率已接近藉由蒸镀生产技术(在玻璃基板上蒸镀红绿蓝有机材料)所生产的OLED面板。三星电子Galasxy S4搭载的OLED面板就采用了蒸镀生产技术,其分辨率达441ppi。

      可折叠手机屏有很多好处,它是为承受压力而设计的,所以可以弯曲起来放进你的口袋里,而且更加轻便。一般而言,该技术是塑料制成的,它应该支持打印,这意味着柔性屏幕应该会便宜很多。曲面屏技术已日臻成熟,相信在不久的将来我们就能用上可以折叠的手机啦!

Foldable smartphones are on the horizon and the current trend in the mobile industry is indicative of the development and commercialization of these electronic devices. Just as touch screens opened up a lot of possibilities and trends, foldable phones will enhance the mobile's functions and usage. There was some technology race between the largest mobile industries such as Samsung, iPhone, and Huawei which have already launched some prototypes. According to Strategy Analytics, the total number of foldable smartphones are expected to be 700,000 units in 2018 and will expand further.

BT 201807 Tech 01First Prototypes

Samsung is one of the major players when it comes to flexible OLED displays, with applications ranging from monitors to TVs. They were steadily working on a flexible phone since 2011, leading to the development of the curved screen Galaxy Round in 2013. In 2011, researchers from Samsung’s Advanced Institute of Technology revealed that they have designed and built the first prototype of a foldable smartphone. It featured a display which could be folded in half without a visible crease in the middle, which was a huge breakthrough in the mobile industry. For the construction of this prototype, they have used advanced AMOLED screen technology.
 

HongShik Shim, a researcher at SAIT, said: “Our method has the advantages that mature, high-quality AMOLED display panels already exist. But for real commercialization, some new processes and new materials must be developed, which takes about 1-2 years.” Called ProjectValley, Galaxy X prototype looks like any other smartphone from the outside but it can be folded in half, fully covering the screen and making it more pocket-friendly. It has a unique hinge which creates a small pocket inside for the phone to be able to smoothly fold and become flat. There were some rumors that the phone will use a 4K-resolution display, which seems rather ambitious, but Samsung loves pioneering these concepts. Samsung made a statement that mass production is slated for November 2018, so the actual device will be introduced in December 2018 or a bit later. It will probably be high-end, a limited edition one (maybe like the Galaxy Round a few years ago, Samsung's first flexible OLED device).

BT 201807 Tech 02Motorola has joined the trend of smartphone makers by investing in new smartphone designs. However, while Huawei, Samsung, iPhone and other companies are trying to overcome the problem with the screen which can't be completely flat, the Motorola designs have solved this problem. The manufacturer realized that the key issue is the way the case is integrated into the design and solved this by making a prototype which would fold outward, rather than inward. While folded, the front case would still offer functionality that we see today with some smart covers and would work in smartphone and tablet mode. Lenovo Chairman and CEO Yang Yuanging has spoken about plans to bring a foldable device to market as soon as possible and under the Motorola brand.
 

Companies In Search of Materials

Japan’s materials manufacturers are trying to develop functional components for bendable OLED panels. Screens will be much bigger, enabling users to enjoy watching videos and surf the web. These devices require a special kind of organic light-emitting diode panel which is made from bendable resin and some other light materials. Glass should be definitely avoided and Japanese makers are using their know-how to position themselves as the key suppliers. The materials will be similar to plastic components and should withstand being folded more than 200,000 times.

Bendable OLED panels will be key to making foldable smartphones

Bendable OLED panels will be key to making foldable smartphones

One of the most successful companies from that field, Sumitomo Chemical has developed a transparent film which is scratch-resistant and could be used instead of glass. On the other hand, Showa Denko Company is focusing on touch sensors, printing circuits with silver ink. Conventional mobile touchscreens have a layer of indium tin oxide, a material that does not handle bending very well. Other companies such as Ube Industries and Kaneka are also working to create new types of materials which would replace the bottom glass layer. They are already supplying some test versions of products.
 

With every new generation of technology, manufacturers from all around the world, especially from Japan and China, have made technology breakthroughs in the market and have promoted new innovative devices. Japanese players are expected to lead on components for bendable OLEDs for the time being. These products are expected to be used not only the majority of smartphones and wearable devices but possibly in the automotive sector as well.

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