Corning, the maker of the Gorilla Glass used in iPhones, is working on a flexible display technology called Willow Glass.
A smart device that wraps around your wrist, subway columns that show movie trailers and car dashboards that double as display screens all depend on one new technology that experts could soon be a reality.
That technology is curved glass displays.
"In my own view, in the last 18 months, there's really been an acceleration of the technology," said Michael Ciesinski, CEO of FlexTech Alliance, an organization of public labs and private companies that work on flexible and curved electronics. "Multiple companies have shown demos," he said. Ciesinski says he has seen demonstrations from Samsung; Corning, which makes Gorilla Glass; U.K.-based Plastic Logic; and other companies.
"When you put all that together, there's definitely smoke and smoke leads to fire," Ciesinski told TechNewsDaily.
Curved glass screens have garnered extra attention over the past few days, as the Guardian, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have all reported that Apple is likely working on a "smart watch" that connects to iPhones and has a curved glass screen that wraps around the wrist. Apple hasn't confirmed the reports, but the reports confirm that curved glass screens are feasible and could lead to everything from large, curved displays to handheld devices that sit more comfortably in a cupped palm.
“If Apple did release it, I would not second guess it and [would] be eager to learn more about it,” said Jason Heikenfeld, who leads the Novel Devices Laboratory at the University of Cincinnati.
Corning, a glass company based in northern New York state, has posted some details about how it would make a curved liquid-crystal touch screen. Last year, the company announced it had made glass so thin and flexible, it could be rolled up in spools, like paper in a newspaper-printing plant. Willow Glass, as it's called, can be used to make the glass layers that sandwich the liquid crystal in an LCD screen, as well as a touch sensor. Then Corning would put a layer of its Gorilla Glass over the Willow Glass layers. Gorilla Glass isn't flexible, but it's tough and scratch-resistant.
Would a curved glass display sold by Apple use the same process? Perhaps: Apple co-founder Steve Jobs drove the development of Gorilla Glass for the original iPhone. In addition, Corning is currently the industry leader in curved glass screens, Heikenfeld told TechNewsDaily in an email.
Whether people will start seeing curved glass screens in their local subway stations and personal handheld devices now depends on whether companies are able to come up with curved products that sell well, Heikenfeld said. Depending on what they want to use the screen for, companies may also have to do some extra research on how the curved display will work with a device's memory, power and other non-display components, Ciesinski said.
Much of the research that goes into curved displays will help with the development of another technology that's a little more distant in the future: flexible displays that don't just hold a rounded shape, but are actually rollable, like a newspaper.
"It helps build other parts of the supply chain and infrastructure," Heikenfeld said.