The recent explosion of foldable smartphone anouncements has brought with it a less-than-desired component: plastic phone screens. But Gorilla Glass maker Corning has told both Wired and CNBC that it’s hard at work on developing a thin, flexible glass for new folding devices, which means future foldables from Samsung or even Apple could be packing smoother and more scratch-resistant screens.
Corning’s in-process glass solution is 0.1 millimeter thick and can bend to a 5mm radius, Wired reports. For context, the flexible plastic screen Samsung has packed into the Galaxy Fold can reportedly bend to a 1.5mm radius.
"The back of the problem we’re trying to break, the technical challenge, is, can you keep those tight 3- to 5-millimeter bend radii and also increase the damage resistance of the glass … That’s the trajectory we’re on,' John Bayne, Senior Vice President and Manager of Corning’s Gorilla Glass business, told Wired.
Corning provided a first-look at its foldable glass project last December, just before this season’s pack of foldable phone unveilings. The technology borrows from the flexible Willow Glass Corning began showing off in the middle of the decade. Bayne now expects Corning’s foldable panels to be ready in a couple of years.
In the meantime, plastics may be more amenable to bending, but it’s that same lack of rigidity that makes screens made with the material more prone to scratches and deformations. That has some observers wondering how folding phones with outward facing screens like Samsung’s Galaxy Fold and Huawei’s Mate X will hold up to repeated use. Other phone makers, like Motorola, are reportedly turning to designs where the phone folds out revealing the display in an effort to improve durability.
As for Apple, most analysts expect that the company will sit out this year’s rush to folding phones before offering its own version in 2020. But Wired’s report puts Corning, the company Apple has used for years for its glass, still “a couple of years” from being ready to release a foldable solution.
"We have glasses we’ve sampled to customers, and they’re functional, but they’re not quite meeting all the requirements," Corning’s Bayne tells Wired.
But with Japan’s AGC having announced last year that its foldable glass had already achieved a Corning-besting bend radius of 2.5mm without cracking, Apple — and Samsung and the rest of the field of foldable smartphone makers — might soon have options to choose from.