IN CASE YOU HAVEN'T FIGURED IT OUT YET, smartphones are getting foldable in 2019, so it's not a massive surprise to hear Corning is working on a bendable glass for flexible displays.
Best known for its tough Gorilla Glass designed to stop butterfingered buffoons from borking their smartphone screens, Corning told Wired that it's trying its hand at flexible glass that could be ready for use within two years.
But making glass flexible yet strong enough to weather drops, bumps and scratches seems to be quite the challenge for Corning to overcome.
"In a glass solution, you're really challenging the laws of physics, in that to get a very tight bend radius you want to go thinner and thinner, but you also have to be able to survive a drop event and resist damage," Corning's general manager John Bayne told Wired.
"The back of the problem we're trying to break, the technical challenge, is, can you keep those tight 3- to 5-millimetre bend radii and also increase the damage resistance of the glass. That's the trajectory we're on."
Current foldable phones like the Galaxy Fold and Huawei Mate X use OLED displays made from plastic polymers in order to fold up. But plastic isn't as durable as glass, and can warp and crease if folded and unfolded time and time again.
So folding glass could be the real step for foldable phones to become a mainstream reality. The problem is putting electronics into foldable glass using current manufacturing techniques is a problem that's yet to be overcome.
Corning has its Willow Glass that can be rolled up, but when it comes to treating it and making it durable it requires a bath in a molten salt solution. Unsurprisingly, salt corrodes the transistors needed to make a display work, meaning Willow Glass isn't suitable for foldable phone displays.
"For this family of glasses to work, you have to have these components in the glass that are incompatible with transistors," said Bayne.
"We have glasses we've sampled to customers, and they're functional, but they're not quite meeting all the requirements," Bayne added. "People either want better performance against a drop event or a tighter bend radius. We can give them one or the other; the key is to give them both."
That sounds like quite an ask, but Bayne told Wired he reckons Corning is but a couple of years away from making foldable glass that's up to scratch for smartphone use. And he reckons that'll come in time for when foldable phones go mainstream.
We won't hold our breath just yet. µ
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