Samsung Experimenting With Curved LCDs As OLED Focus Weakens

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Samsung is experimenting with curved liquid crystal display panels, according to a new patent awarded to the company last week. The technology described in the recently published documentation is based on a dual-substrate panel structure, with the LCD layer being situated between the two materials. Two polymers and a "cross-linker" are also part of the package, with the concept describing a pre-curved panel that can't be bent or straightened by the end user. Compared to regular LCDs, the essence of Samsung's idea is to replace glass backings with plastic.

Samsung didn't go into a lot of details regarding the potential applications of the technology and it's presently unclear whether the company has the ability to commercialize the solution on any scale. The fact that the concept panel is not user-bendable suggests its uses are more likely to be in the TV and monitor space instead of mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, though the company's QLED line already includes products with curved panels.

A renewed interest in LCDs

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The newly uncovered patent is far from the first indicator that Samsung may still be willing to invest in LCD tech, even after it spent the better part of 2016 and 2017 shutting down its LCD production lines in South Korea and repurposing them for other uses. According to a report from late September, the Seoul-based original equipment manufacturer is pondering the idea of returning to LCDs in the mobile space after years of OLED-only product families. The firm may reportedly do so with an entirely new smartphone range called the Galaxy P, though the lineup is unlikely to be making its way to the West in the near future. Instead, Samsung is understood to be targeting China and several other Asian markets with its upcoming LCD-equipped devices, possibly in an effort to become more competitive in the non-flagship price brackets.

That strategy could also see the Galaxy P line launch in India, another market where Samsung has been struggling to keep up with rivals' entry-level and mid-range devices as the likes of Huawei, Xiaomi, and OPPO have been undercutting it in those segments for years. The idea of capturing more market share with unconventional devices — which contemporary smartphones using LCD panels now arguably are — is far from a new concept for Samsung; the company has already been trying to remain relevant in China with its W series of Android-powered flip phones, the latest one of which debuted less than two months back in the form of the dual-display W2019.

Times are a-changing

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A move toward LCD panels would allow Samsung to cut significant production costs on select devices while still equipping them with contemporary features such as multiple-camera setups, in-display fingerprint readers, and depth-sensing imaging solutions such as the one Apple uses in its latest iPhones for authentication and apps like Animoji. The shift would be largely in line with Samsung's mobile strategy change started earlier this year after the company admitted to losing momentum across all smartphone price brackets due to the increasing saturation of the global market and strengthening competition. According to the conglomerate's last several consolidated financial reports, the company intends to blur the lines between its premium and other mobile offerings moving forward so as to combat the idea that any particular product it puts out is "low-end."

The new approach may also lead to a discontinuation of the entry-level Galaxy J line, as numerous industry insiders claimed in recent months. One potential issue with Samsung's possible return to mobile LCD panels is the ease of commercializing under-screen fingerprint readers, something the company has been pursuing rather aggressively in recent years. Due to the way in which LCDs operate, an under-display sensor is hardly possible and the next best alternative currently being explored by the tech industry involves a scanner that's flush with the screen that surrounds it. Japan Display Inc. announced one such solution in early 2018, unveiling it in the form of an all-glass fingerprint sensor, though no manufacturer commercialized it to date. How Samsung's non-flagship mobile strategy will exactly differ from its existing approach moving forward remains to be seen but the company is likely to share more details on the matter a couple of months from now, being scheduled to appear as one of the largest exhibitors at the next iteration of Barcelona-based Mobile World Congress which is starting on February 25.