Spending money on cases to keep tablets, laptops, and smartphones could be a thing of the past sometime soon.
Next up in the technological revolution, flexible displays. Several companies are on the verge of the next big thing in technology on the go. Big names like Samsung, LG, Microsoft (MSFT), and Sony (SNE) and small companies like Atmel (ATML), Universal Display Corporation (PANL) and NanoLumens are racing to be the first to market with a successful and cost effective version of the new technology. This flexible technology could bring together laptop, tablet, and smart phone into a single device. A user could merely unroll or unfold the device to just the size needed based on what they needed to do. For instance, only unfold it to 3"x5" to make a phone call or open it up all the way to a 15" display for a laptop and typing surface.
The first company to successfully develop and market this technology stands to make a large amount of cash. Other plays on this newly developing technology are on the companies that supply the electronic ink, organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs), or Gyricon that are required to produce the devices.
NanoLumens already has several flexible display models on the market. It has one that can wrap completely around a column up to 29" in diameter and is less than 2" thick. NanoLumens is already shipping these flexible displays across the globe according to a press release from November 2011. Another bonus is that these displays are energy efficient, are made from 50% recyclable material, and completely recyclable once the owner wants to dispose of them.
Amtel has its XSense line that boasts flexibility, thinness, energy efficiency, and touch capability. Amtel serves customers such as General Electric (GE), Honeywell (HON), Motorola (MOT), Samsung, Cisco (CSCO), Sony, and IBM (IBM). Instead of having physical buttons on the side of a smartphone or tablet, this technology allows the screen to wrap around the device and have touch sensor buttons.
Universal Display Corp has several ideas for future uses of this flexible OLED technology: foldable electronic and refreshable newspapers, computers/smartphones that roll up into the size of a pen, and heads up displays for vehicle windshields. This technology could prove especially useful for aircraft cockpits as well. Its website also notes that developments are going well, and initial products could come to market within the next few years.
Toyota (TM) displayed a car at the Tokyo 2012 auto show that uses flexible display technology throughout the car. The exterior sides of the car have huge displays on them to display whatever image the driver would like. Those displays are also touch screen displays. This brings a whole new potential for distractions while driving if there were similar touch panels inside. In addition, this could open up a whole new marketing possibility. Could you imagine every car on the road with this technology displaying different advertisements for different companies?
Microsoft is rumored to be using similar technology in its home of the future. On its website it talks about putting recipes right on the countertop that you are cooking on or being able to change the wall coverings in a bedroom instantly based on the occupants' mood. It could make panoramic movies possible in every home. Other than vaguely mentioning features, the rest of the page notes that the technology will be available sometime in the future but the people couldn't be sure how soon.
While several of these companies appear to be very close, they still have to work on refining and scaling the technology. In addition, they need to make it more capable of withstanding the use and impacts that typical users put their devices through. The last hurdle will be the ability of companies to manufacture the technology such that the average person can afford it.
I will definitely be keeping an eye on an area. I also plan to look more in depth at the companies involved in this race to find the best possibility for a great growth investment.