Although flexible displays have yet to really make a big mark on the mobile device industry, companies like Samsung, LG, Lenovo and others have demonstrated their capability to produce such a product, even if only in a concept form at this point. Of course, Samsung has their curved glass displays which are used for their Edge line of Galaxy S series as well as the Galaxy Note Edge phablet, but this is not the same as a “flexible display” that can bend or fold. When it comes to LG, the closest they have gotten to something with a flexible display that has hit the market are their line of G Flex handsets which, only includes the G Flex and G Flex 2, and which only flex slightly, but are not capable of bending or folding or rolling up like one might imagine when hearing the word “flexible.” LG has reportedly invested almost $1 Billion in flexible displays as of last year for their 6th gen flexible OLED displays, but have so far not produced anything on the market either. More recently, during their own Tech World 2016 conference just earlier this month, Lenovo showed off a couple of different devices with a flexible display that were more along the lines of what could be envisioned for a real world product. Showcasing both a smartphone that could wrap around your wrist like a wearable cuff bracelet, as well as a tablet that could fold up to the size of a phablet sized smartphone device, Lenovo’s experimental and purely conceptual (for now) devices are a great example of how flexible displays could be the future of tablets.
Sure, flexible displays could be used for smartphones as well, but, smartphones are already small enough that it makes less sense to utilize this sort of tech on screens that are around 6-inches and below. For tablets though, typically with screen sizes of 7-inches or 8-inches and above, a flexible display that could bend or fold, or even roll up could potentially serve a very useful purpose for a lot of people and could be the future of a market that is still in steady decline. While tablets sales continue to drop, tablets are still selling, and flexible display tablets that could fold up might just be something to reinvigorate the market and light the flame of excitement for consumers, whether commercial or not. One extremely obvious use for a flexible tablet like what Lenovo unveiled at Tech World this year is to have a tablet that gives users a sizeable display to work with for business purposes when on the go, but can also be folded up to the size of something like the Galaxy Note 5 and be used as a smartphone as well, essentially serving a dual purpose.
With such a form factor in place, sporting a display that folds up like a book, tablets would essentially carry their own kickstand and could be used for when people need to get a little work done when paired with something like a Bluetooth keyboard, or, even a keyboard dock if the design allowed it. This, of course, would be dependent on OEMs actually creating a tablet with this type of design in the first place, but it seems perfectly reasonable that it would work. Aside from work purposes, a foldable tablet of such a design could also fulfill entertainment needs for the users who love video. Want to catch up on your favorite clips from episodes of Late Night over the past week? A foldable tablet would be perfect for propping up and viewing at a reasonable angle and then just sitting back to enjoy.
While a tablet design that folds up into a book shape would serve a useful purpose for a sizeable portion of the consumer population, it is simply one design of many possibilities when talking about flexible displays. It could be possible to have a design where the display simply rolls up into the form of a pen, provided the battery and other hardware is able to flex along with the display. Of course, OEMs could also develop the battery and other hardware into a cylindrical pen-shaped form factor, and have just the display that flexes to be pulled out and extended when in use, then rolled back up and reverted when not in use. This type of a design, while seemingly unrealistic at this point simply because there are currently no products on the market which make use of it, would be easy to carry around and because the display would be rolled up into a pen-shaped body, the screen would be protected and therefore the device could be considered a little more durable. With a flexible display, it might also be more lightweight, although there are many factors that could cause a device like this to weigh just as much as the standard tablet these days.
Although not technically a tablet, Lenovo’s flexible smartphone that was shown off at Tech World earlier this month and could be worn around the wrist would be another possible form factor for a tablet that makes use of flexible display technology. With a larger screen size it would be less plausible that it would be something people would wear around their wrists for everyday use, but it could serve the purpose needed for those who work in industries such as construction or other jobs where they may need to be hands free, but could benefit from having a connected device with a display at their fingertips. Being able to wear such a product would make it easy to hop on the web and grab anything they need from information on patients for those in the medical field to documents and blueprints on a building that is being constructed for contractors. The possibilities could be endless. Although not flexible, something like the Rufus Cuff is a perfect example of a device which could be worn on the wrist with a flexible display. If OEMs like Samsung, Lenovo, or LG, all of which have already invested in and have started research on flexible display technology, were to design a tablet that could be flexed and worn around the wrist or forearm similar in fashion to the Rufus Cuff, there are many jobs in the business world that could make use of such a device to get a hold of data while being hands free.
With a flexible display device that could be worn around the wrist, not only could workers be more efficient, but such devices could also improve workplace safety. An improved workflow and a safer work environment would benefit the business world immensely, and could even interest some consumers who would want a flexible display tablet as a personal device. If given the choice to carry around both a tablet and a smartphone, or just a foldable tablet that could be 8 to 10-inches in size when laid out flat, but around 5-inches when folded up, there are likely some that would opt for carrying around one device that could serve the purpose of two devices in one, not to mention it would save space, and there would be one less thing to have to worry about charging every day. It's also entirely possible that flexible displays may not be the future of tablets, but simply just carve out a niche and grab the attention of a small section of the consumer market. Either way, tablets with flexible displays would definitely have their uses, and if not for regular consumers, certainly for all manner of staff across tons of different job types, all that's needed is for OEMs to crack the puzzle of a design that works.