Imagine pulling your smartphone from your pocket, unfolding it to form a tablet, then sitting down to do serious work. Or, watching your favorite show on a screen featuring brilliant color and image quality, then rolling that spectacular screen into a slim tube and storing it in a corner?
Let’s take it a step further: How about a feather-light, barely-there display that’ll wrap comfortably around your arm and deliver vital health data in real time? With OLED technology, such bendable, rollable, and even foldable devices are now within reach of today’s consumer.
Displays are how we see and interact with the digital world every day. And today, we’re entering the third wave of display technology: the age of OLED. Just as the once-ubiquitous Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) yielded to the Liquid Crystal Display in the 1950’s, LCD displays are progressively being replaced by OLED displays in many existing applications. What’s more, OLED is starting to enable new flexible devices that were previously impossible with LCD.
An Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED) is a light-emitting technology that consists of a stack of ultra-thin organic films sandwiched between two electrodes. When a current is applied to the device, the films light up. OLED technology can be used to make lighting panels and brilliant-looking displays for smartphones, TVs and other consumer products. The flexibility of the organic layers enables such products to be curved, bendable, foldable or even roll-able.
The modern-day OLED device was invented in 1987 by Ching Tang and Steven Van Slyke at Kodak. Now, thirty years after their discovery, OLED technology is in mass production for curved smartphones, smart watches, OLED TVs, and more.
The structure of an OLED device is much simpler than an LCD display. There’s no backlight unit, liquid crystal layers, or color filters. OLED displays benefit the “viewing experience” in many ways. They offer better contrast, more brilliant colors, a wider viewing angle, and faster response time (for gaming and VR). They are thinner, lighter, and more energy efficient, which means they can curve, stretch, and even roll.
Although the OLED was invented 30 years ago, mass production of OLED-based consumer devices is a recent phenomenon. Like other disruptive technologies, it took many years to learn how to manufacture OLED displays in a cost-effective way. Today, OLED smartphones (flat and curved) are in the hands of millions of consumers. The estimated manufacturing cost of a flat OLED smartphone display is now less than that of an LCD. And the cost of making curved and flexible OLED displays is dropping rapidly as display manufacturers, equipment suppliers, and the greater OLED supply-chain work together to increase productivity, efficiency, and manufacturing yields.
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