Samsung has been on a roll. They seem to be a great predictor of which core technologies will make it into our consumer devices. Samsung’s ‘Youm’ display, the one that so many other blogs have been discussing, was at CES.
The flexible OLED display was certainly interesting, and Samsung demonstrated a handheld prototype that was very sexy-bendy. But I have to admit, I was disappointed. Not because of Youm, but because of what Samsung did not show this year. I was hoping to see Samsung demonstrate progress with a different flexible display – one that I think is an even more promising base technology known as “electrowetting.”
Electrowetting displays make use of a well-known physical phenomenon; applying a voltage to liquids can modifiy their shape and surface tension. If a small electrode is placed within a drop of black oil, for example, application of a voltage can then either allow the oil to spread or bead up. In principle, this tiny drop of oil can act as a shutter by blocking light. As opposed to LCD technologies that have largely ruled the display world over the past few decades, electrowetting doesn’t rely on polarizing filters to either block or transmit a backlit source. Because the filter is always in place, regardless of whether a pixel is emitting a particular color, a significant amount of energy is lost as light is attenuated through both filters. Electrowetting doesn’t have this problem. Each colored pixel can either be blocked by that little drop of oil or, when a voltage it applied, the oil drop tightens itself into a corner of the pixel allowing almost all the backlight to pass through the color pixel. The result is very bright, high-contrast, beautifully colored displays that require very little energy to drive and can be made on a flexible substrate. The technology promises a future with thin, low-powered, larger roll-out displays that we can carry in the palm of our hand. Pretty cool.
So when Samsung bought Liquavista (the company that developed the technology) in 2010, I thought we’d begin to see amazing handheld display’s based on Liquavista’s technology sometime between 2012 to 2013. To be fair Liquavista’s founder Johan Feenstra has been busy, and they have shown iPad-sized displays in demonstration. I’ll continue to follow the technology and keep readers updated. But if I had my vote, Samsung would work hard to integrate the technology into a hand-held, flexible display system sometime in 2013.