The foldable smartphone displays used by Samsung, Huawei, and others won't be changing much over the next five years. That's according to recent reports citing an analysis from UBI Research. Device OEMs will effectively be forced to stick to both ultra-thin glass (UTG) and colorless polyimide (CPI) films for the duration.
Aside from predictions of steady market growth, his year will also mark the beginning of a market split, the report indicates. All OEMs with foldable smartphones utilized CPI in 2019, with the noteworthy exception of Samsung's Galaxy Z Flip. But Samsung is expected to use UTG in both of its folders this year. Those are the Samsung Galaxy Fold 2 and Galaxy Z Flip 2.
Is this driven by Samsung's business tactics?
One interesting point noted by the source is that Samsung Display actually obtains its UTG from Schott. South Korea's Dowooinsys processes the German company's glass. Samsung actually has a stake in Dowooinsys and has been actively using that position to its benefit. Specifically, the company has been working to prevent UTG from being used by its rivals, the report indicates.
The decision to limit UTG's availability for rivals comes down, the source says, to the fact that it delivers a premium in-hand feel compared to CPI films.
UBI Research has estimated that Samsung Display will be supplying its sister company with those foldable OLEDs. But has also said that it will most likely ship CPI-based display panels to Huawei. Most other vendors are putting forward CPI film displays as well while researching OLED UTG panels.
Samsung Display sources its CPI films, such as those used in the original Samsung Galaxy Fold, from Sumimoto Chemical. Chinese companies BOE and Royole both used those of South Korea’s Kolon Industries.
All of that seems to indicate that, at least for now, the true glass end of the foldable smartphone segment is not only dominated by Samsung. The presumption appears to be that company is also effectively leading the entire industry forward. Or holding it back, depending on the perspective taken. At least as far as UTG panels are concerned as the market for those currently stands.
So what's the projected growth in foldable displays for smartphones over the next five years?
Now, the research here is taking into account "the outlook for foldable OLED panels and manufacturers' yield rates." So the estimated figures may not hold if something changes in either of those regards for the smartphone industry. The figures also don't go through the next five years based on those figures. But, as estimated, the growth appears to be both fast and steady through at least Q2 2024.
For example, CPI films and UTG are expected to reach 4.5-million units and 3.5-million units shipped this year alone. As of 2021, those numbers are predicted to grow to 11.6- and 9.2-million. In 2022, 2023, and 2024, CPI film shipments are expected to grow from there to 17.6-million, 27.8-million, 37.1-million in a gradual upward curve.
UTG shipments follow a similar trend if UBI Research's figures are accurate. Those grow over that same period to 14.4-million, 20.5-million, and 30.5-million, respectively.