Mobile device

The future of mobile device screens – More than just touch screens

This article is part of TechXchange: Advanced display technology

What you will learn:

  • The state of the display market and industry.
  • New trends in displays for the year or years to come.

Smartphones have come a long way in the past few decades. Gone are the glorious days of using PDAs with monochrome screens backlit with a sterile white hue or the tiny, unadorned screens that most flip phones had in the late 90s and early 2000s.

Before Apple released the original iPhone, most companies outfitted their handsets with a physical keyboard, which limited screen size in favor of functionality. Today, flagship smartphones feature pixel-dense displays that far exceed the 320×480/180 ppi density display equipped on the HTC Dream, the first phone to use the Android operating system.

Push pixel density

The display market for mobile devices today has few innovations on pixel density. So each annual or biannual upgrade typically has more pixels crammed into a 1-inch area designated by a BOM that no one outside of the market really understands beyond 2K, 4K, or 8K.

Lower-tier phones typically pack a high-definition (FHD) display, while flagship models offer quad-high-definition (QHD) and ultra-high-definition (UHD) iterations. This is, of course, followed by aspect ratios and the type of video graphics matrix that drives these displays, such as WSXGA, WQXGA, and WQUXGA, among others.

Those numbers and definitions mean nothing without the kind of display-like technologies used to push those pixel densities. Most phones today use some type of AMOLED (active-matrix organic light-emitting diode) display, which offers higher refresh rates than those using passive-matrix. That said, what will smartphones look like in the next decade or two? Will manufacturers continue to increase pixel densities on existing displays, or will innovation usher in new technologies that have yet to be invented?

Progress Today: A Glimpse of the Future?

We can get an idea of ​​what the future may hold for display technologies by looking at what is currently being marketed in the market today. One such technology includes foldable displays, which can bend without breaking due to the materials used to create them. Unlike typical displays, foldable displays use flexible plastic OLED screens rather than glass, allowing them to maintain the required bend radius to be folded and unfolded repeatedly without breaking.

Of course, these types of displays are prone to blemishes and scratches on their glass counterparts. Some manufacturers, such as Samsung, have found ways to incorporate glass into their designs. The company’s Galaxy Z Fold3, for example, features an ultra-thin 30 μm (0.0012 in) thick glass with a layer of plastic produced by an intensification process to improve its flexibility and durability. sustainability. (Fig.1). Samsung says the screen is then injected with a “special material” to an unknown depth to achieve consistent hardness.

Regardless of Samsung’s unique material, today’s foldable phones aren’t as durable as single-screen devices and tend to scratch easily with moderate use. However, this could change in the coming decades.

Mobile device companies have also dabbled in creating modular smartphones, using hardware that can be replaced when damaged or upgraded when needed, including cameras, different sets of sensors, a hi-fi audio system and even screens. LG’s G5 and Motorola’s Moto Z were great examples of what we could have had, but they ultimately failed to reach consumers and they weren’t fully modular.

Google’s Project Ara, on the other hand, seemed like a completely modular platform where every component could be replaced with relative ease, including the processor, camera, battery and, of course, the screen. . (Fig.2). Unfortunately, the company left Project Ara before it had even shipped the phone to developers and moved on to different projects.

Beyond Phones

Perhaps in the future, smartphones as we know them and sophisticated displays with high pixel density will take on a different shape from the portable rectangles we know today. Advances in miniaturization have given rise to smart glasses for augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) applications. Google Glass was a forerunner of the idea, and companies such as Apple and Meta (Facebook) are currently exploring the use of glasses as a replacement for wearables.

The main issue with this is reducing the tech enough to fit a full smartphone into the headgear without being bulky and awkward. The display technology isn’t quite up to par yet, as most of these glasses project images and videos directly onto the glass.

So what will phone screens look like in the coming decades? Don’t rely on images transmitted to your retinas or true holographic emitters that produce 3D images on the move. Advanced eyeglasses and contact lenses are certainly in the realm of reality, given that we are seeing these devices today. The same can be said for AR/VR displays, which will continue to be integrated into smartphone designs.

One aspect is certain: the displays of tomorrow will undoubtedly become more durable and pixel densities will continue to climb to higher levels that will support 12K and more.

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