“The screen is gone. The one who goes is the one who stretches”. The sentence, enthusiastic, was not said by just anyone: he pronounced it, a little dazed, J.S. Choi, the CEO of Samsung Display, the subsidiary of the Korean giant which is one of the largest display manufacturers in the world. The sentence was said during the Intel Innovation Dayyesterday, accompanied by Pat Gelsingerthe CEO of microchip maker Intel.
Choi had a prototype on stage, and showed how this screen went from 13 to 17 inches as if stretched. Here, the “as if” is the key fact: although it appears to be stretched, strictly speaking the screen has always been 17 inches; it’s just that there is a part that is hidden inside the case of the device, and a motor moves the case to make it unfold.
This, of course, is not to take it away: it’s a huge achievement to make a panel of this size, with a technology that allows the screen to be flexible enough to bend like a U and leave a hidden part (it is not a roll; it is hidden at the back of the device. Why? Offer a compact device which, when the user wishes, can be enlarged: it must be a format flexible.
Samsung is not the first to show something like this, although until now the rollable screen has appeared in smartphones: LG was about to release a smartphone with this design, the LG Rollable; Oppo (one of the top five mobile phone manufacturers in the world) did the same with the Oppo X 2021. Oppo’s was a prototype, with a 7.6-inch screen, which could hide a part for only be seen from 6.7 inches; LG’s fell victim to the company’s decision to exit the mobile device market in 2021. By the way, a South Korean YouTuber had access to an LG unit; Here you can see it in action:
LG has been making rollable screens since 2014, and even introduced a TV with this feature in 2019. Other manufacturers are also on the same path, and see it as an alternative to the foldable screen, now present in some smartphones, such as the smart phones. Samsung Galaxy Z Flip4 and Fold4or the Motorola Reset; Vivo updated its model this week, Xiaomi did in August and Huawei in May this year, among others; they all have similar devices: screens that fold to a point and close like a book.
This same idea is the one implemented by Lenovo and Asus with their tablets (or laptops, depending on how you look at them) with a folding screen, the Lenovo Thinkpad X1 foldable (which is already in its second version) or the Asus Zenbook 17 times: laptop-sized devices that can be opened to reveal a 16 or 17-inch screen that can be used as a monitor with a removable keyboard, or as a laptop by placing this keyboard in the middle of the screen.
However, this design has a limitation: when the device is “closed”, the screen is completely folded and cannot be used. It closes like a book. In some smartphones, this is solved with a second front screen, in one of the “book” covers (as used by Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold).
The design that Samsung has now presented (and which, apparently, could be replicated by LG and other manufacturers, such as TCL, which has been playing with these concepts for years), instead allows the screen to be used all the time. That’s to say, instead of having a book that you have to open to use it, it allows you to have a tablet for classic use (i.e. with the screen always visible and active) whose surface can be enlarged at will by touching a button to activate a motor that unrolls it, ensuring that it does so with the appropriate speed .
The the challenge, of course, is in the sustainability: how much this screen will suffer each time it is opened and closed; how to prevent dust and oil that adheres to the hidden part of the screen from getting inside the computer, where it could scratch the screen; how will you prevent the hidden part from degrading more (or less) than the still visible part. Both LG and Samsung have developed glass that protects the bendable screen and is flexible enough. And in any case, the one they showed yesterday is a prototype, but that’s great news: it could be the missing link between foldable smartphones and flexible screen notebooks, to offer an extendable tablet. You just have to arm yourself with a little patience: it would be rare for us to see this technology in a tablet before 2023.