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[HERALD INTERVIEW] ‘Foldable devices to be popularized by 2019’

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Published : 2016-12-22 16:59
Updated : 2016-12-22 16:59

Foldable devices could become popular by 2019, grabbing around 20 percent share of the Korean smartphone market, said an executive of Kolon Industries, a chemical arm of Kolon Group.

Kolon Industries is currently the only company in the world that can mass produce colorless polyimide, a key technology for foldable devices as the flexible film can replace rigid glass sheets. It is reportedly supplying the materials to global tech firms including Samsung Electronics, LG Electronics and BOE, although these companies have not confirmed this officially.

“Around three to five tech companies are expected to mass produce foldable phones in 2018 globally. The devices will then grab around 20 percent of the total smartphone market here,” said Kang Chung-seok, Kolon Industries’ colorless polyimide division head, in an interview with The Korea Herald. 

Kang Chung-seok, the head of Kolon Industries’ colorless polyimide division. Kolon Industries

Currently, most tech companies including Samsung, LG, BOE, Xiaomi, Sony and even Apple are moving away from liquid-crystal displays to organic light-emitting diode displays. This is because OLED can be flexible, as opposed to rigid liquid-crystal displays, enabling panels to be curved, foldable and even rollable.

He predicted that the first foldable devices, which could possibly be released next year, will have a bend radius of 5 millimeters as opposed to market speculations of 1 millimeter.

Bend radius is the minimum radius something can be bent. The smaller the bend radius, the greater the material flexibility. When the bend radius is 1 millimeter, both sides of the panels can almost touched, as though they are completely folded.

“The bend radius of 1 millimeter is the most ideal but that may cause a safety issue. So, tech companies are likely to unveil the bend radius of 5 millimeters first and then gradually unveil devices with less bend radius,” Kang added.

Kolon Industries’ flexible colorless polyimide, which can replace rigid glass sheets, is expected to be used for most foldable devices in the near future. The Korean tech firm succeeded in the development of the technology this August and plans to mass produce films for around 100 million units of foldable devices in 2018.

By Shin Ji-hye (shinjh@heraldcorp.com)