Flex Those Devices With OLED

Contortionist Zlata

Organic Light-Emitting Diodes (OLEDs) are a not-so-new technology that leverages organic materials to create flexible lighting displays. Since screens are used by a large portion of consumer electronics such as smartphones, TVs and wearables, making them elastic will allow the entire device to move away from being clunky, heavy, and stiff.

Well, it’s about time. With rapid software advancements for the Internet of Things, hardware does have some catching up to do, and OLEDs are a fitting beginning. But before indulging in the possibilities, let’s get a little nerdy.

We’re all familiar with light-emitting diodes in Christmas lights, digital clock displays, and LED TVs. Essentially, those bulbs sit on electron-infused metalloids, semiconductors like silicon, which make them robust but inflexible. Organic LED transitions, on the other hand, use bendable light-emitting films made up of durable plastic-like polymers or carbon-containing molecules (thus the organic title). And the rubbery results are fantastic:

  • Enhanced quality with less power required
  • Increased durability and decreased weight
  • More possibilities: transparency, and—wait for it—flexibility

Flexibility is the ultimate fuel behind the OLED patent race among Apple and its competitors to speed up their unique product’s time-to-market. Considering most of the population have never seen a roll-up flatscreen or bending smartphone, the first prototype launched publicly will not doubt catch more than a few glimpses. And history has it that eye-catching leads to trend-setting—remember the iPhone 4?

Although incentives are huge, and market share is at stake, industries still face technological challenges associated with OLEDs.

As with most genius innovations, OLED holds its own set of challenges, resulting in further needs for perfection and thus time-to-market delays. Before organic can be seamlessly integrated into marketable devices, two prominent issues need to be addressed:

  • Moisture sensitivity

Organic materials are sensitive to moisture, and OLEDs are no exceptions. Impeccable sealing solutions and a whole range of tests are needed to prevent material defaults

  • Brightness and lifetime requirements

OLEDs require a high amount of current to achieve maximal illumination; simply cranking up the voltage can lead to power dissipation, flickering, and shortened lifetime—all of which will degrade a user’s experience. Applying better current driving mechanisms in the backplane can lead to less power, better output, and longer lifetime.

One possible solution to address OLED challenges is the Active Matrix OLED (AMOLED), which implements better driving techniques. And who leads the AMOLED market today? Samsung (chime). The hype about the Galaxy S6 released back in April was its curved edges—an unprecedented smartphone development that was only made possible by AMOLED technology. Additionally, the organic smartphone boasts of vivid displays with 3.6 million OLED pixels, low power consumption, and fast response time. For the most part, it’s been well-received—maybe a bit too well because apparently the company’s having some trouble supplying the demand.

To be fair, Samsung’s one-of-a-kind OLED display is great for temporary entertainment, but it doesn’t quite epitomize the real power of OLED, with its full potential yet to be realized; people are still waiting for bendable, rollable devices, bringing technology to unexplored realms.

Bend ‘em, fold ‘em,  roll ‘em, flex ‘em—that’s what most consumers are going to do when flexible devices like smartphones, tablets, readers, and wearables finally move their way onto shelves.

Speaking of mobility, OLED can brighten up car displays and make vehicles sleeker, lighter, and faster; Audi is leveraging OLED with its upcoming A8 model. Along with getting plenty of kudos for innovation, the automotive industry also expects to shave off up to 200 kg with its newly-integrated OLED design.

On a much grander scale, OLED opens the door to outdoor digital displays such as OLED public infrastructures, creating a blurred boundary between our digital and physical perception.

The general response to OLED technology is currently being played out by Australians who received their 65-inch LG OLED curved flatscreen this week. Even without the ability to bend, it’s already been dubbed as “The King” and “The Future" of TV. Just imagine people’s reactions when LG’s true OLED models make their debut, all rolled up:

We anticipate these next-generation, flexible devices and embrace the OLED-driven transformations. But between Samsung’s pre-market prototype leaks and LG’s roll-up flatscreen research, Apple’s secret OLED patents and intriguing rumors surrounding the “flex-iPhone” 7, consumers can only sit back and wait.

But for everything OLED promises to bring to the technological landscape—a little more waiting should be well worth it.

Got more innovative ideas you’d like to share? What OLED devices are you waiting for?

Edison Tech Center