Flexible glass displays still years away, says Corning

Flexible glass could be the next big thing for phone and tablet displays, but not for at least a few years, according to Corning.

The maker of Gorilla Glass, which is found in Apple's iPhones and other handsets, told Bloomberg that it will take "a lot of effort" to teach vendors how to handle spools of its new flexible glass, known as "Willow."

"People are not accustomed to glass you roll up," James Clappin, president of Corning Glass Technologies, told Bloomberg in an interview. "The ability of people to take it and use it to make a product is limited." Here's a video from Corning about flexible glass:

Corning recently opened an $800 million factory to produce the bendable glass. Willow should allow for thinner and lighter phones, as well as displays that curve—just in time for smart watch fever.

Although Clappin didn't elaborate on the challenges the company faces, a previous report by MIT Technology Review said that Corning needs to help vendors figure out how to feed spools of Willow into their existing manufacturing lines.

The best way is to use a roll-to-roll process, but most companies don't have the necessary equipment right now. Technology Review's report said the glass would appear in devices in 2013, but now Corning says it may only show up in simpler uses this year, such as a flexible barrier for solar panels.

Other competitors in flexible

That's not to say other companies won't beat Corning to the punch using other methods. Samsung, for instance, has been showing off an OLED display called YOUM that uses flexible sheets of polymer instead of glass. At CES in January, Samsung demonstrated the technology on a prototype Android handset, whose screen folded gently around the side edges.

Rumors have also hinted at a Google phone, built by Motorola and dubbed "X Phone," with a flexible display. However, a report from December by the Wall Street Journal claimed that Google had to rethink some elements of the phone, such as the bendable screen, due to "hurdles associated with manufacturing and supply-chain management." Apple patents have hinted at designs with flexible displays as well.

Keep in mind that the rise of flexible displays has been hyped for years. Though it doesn't seem like such a crazy fantasy anymore, the technology doesn't appear quite ready for primetime yet.

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