In an interview with Wired, Gorilla Glass-maker Corning revealed that it’s working on a bendable glass solution for use in the next generation of foldable display smartphones.
Both the recently announced Samsung Galaxy Fold and Huawei Mate X rely on plastic polymers to enable their foldable display. While bendable (obviously an essential feature for a foldable display), synthetic polymers present several disadvantages: they’re easy to scratch and they crease over time. Glass, by contrast, has neither of those disadvantages — though obviously making it bend without breaking is a challenge.
“Glass today, the current choices out there, they’re not optimal [for folding smartphones],” said John Bayne, an executive with Corning’s Gorilla Glass unit. “In a glass solution, you’re really challenging the laws of physics, in that to get a very tight bend radius you want to go thinner and thinner, but you also have to be able to survive a drop event and resist damage.”
As Wired notes, the use of polymers is one of the main reasons both Samsung and Huawei have been reluctant to allow tech journalists to go hands-on with their new foldable devices: a decade of smartphone design has conditioned smartphone users to expect glass displays. When the Galaxy Fold and Mate X start filtering out to consumers, they’ll likely have a very visceral reaction to the feel of the screens on the Galaxy Fold and Mate X.
Corning says it’s developing glass that is 0.1mm thick and can bend up to a 5mm radius. The company has shipped samples to smartphones OEMs, though it admits it still has work to do before its bendable glass solution ships alongside consumer-facing devices.
“We have glasses we’ve sampled to customers, and they’re functional, but they’re not quite meeting all the requirements,” Bayne told the publication. “People either want better performance against a drop event or a tighter bend radius. We can give them one or the other; the key is to give them both.”
By the company’s current estimate, its bendable glass solution will be ready by the time foldable display smartphones go mainstream in the next few years.