24 Jun 2008
A new generation of handheld devices is predicted to drive dramatic growth in the flexible display market over the next five years.
Revenues from flexible displays are set to rise from $80 million in 2007 to $2.8 billion in 2013, according to a new report from market analysts iSuppli. Consumer demand for portable devices will drive market growth, as electronics manufacturers compete to deliver ever more compelling user interfaces, while production volumes will be boosted as new manufacturing facilities come on line.
"Flexible displays are intuitively appealing to end users and product designers because they are rugged, thin, lightweight, and novel," said Jennifer Colegrove, senior analyst for emerging displays at iSuppli. "Such displays also offer manufacturers the potential for inexpensive fabrication because they can be made using new printing methods or roll-to-roll processing."
Drilling into the detail reveals a complex market that encompasses a number of different technologies and potential applications. According to Colegrove, more than a dozen display technologies can now be made into flexible screens, including traditional LCDs, bistable LCDs, organic light-emitting diodes, and electrophoretic, electrochromic and electroluminescent displays.
It's also notable that active-matrix flexible displays are now appearing for the first time, since until now they have not been able to offer the image quality that consumers have come to expect from LCD televisions and computer monitors.
"Passive-matrix displays are cheaper, and will be good for applications such as electronic shelf labels," said Colegrove. "Active-matrix technology is more costly, but offers better resolution for applications such as electronic books."
Mobile phones represent one of the key market sectors for flexible display manufacturers. Electrophoretic technology is favoured in this application for its low-power consumption and clear legibility in sunlight, while flexible LCDs and organic light-emitting diodes offer better colour rendition and faster response times – which is important for video applications.
Cost remains an important issue, but Colegrove says that flexible displays offering good image quality will be able to command a price premium. Roll-to-roll manufacturing techniques are also being implemented for displays at the lower end of the price spectrum.
According to Colegrove, a number of companies are already vying to take market share in this potentially lucrative sector. "E Ink, SiPix, Kent Displays, Flexmedia and Shenzhen Guanxin are all shipping flexible displays in volumes," said Colegrove. "Polymer Vision, Plastic Logic, Prime View International, Aveso, LG Display, UDC, Sony, Samsung, Bridge Stone, Add-vision and others are also active in this field, and are well prepared to capitalize on the expansion in the market."
All of these companies were eager to promote their latest technologies at the display industry's main event – the Society of Information Display's annual conference and exhibition, held in May in Los Angeles, US.
Much of the interest surrounded Polymer Vision's Readius, a prototype rollable display that can be integrated into mobile phones for reading on the move. Readius exploits a high-resolution active-matrix display from E Ink, a US company that also produces flexible cover displays for mobile phones and electrophoretic bistable displays for devices such as wristwatches. Also on display was a 4-inch active-matrix OLED from LG Display and its US partner Universal Display, and an active-matrix electrophoretic display from Prime View International.• iSuppli's Emerging Displays Special Report on flexible displays is available now.