Corning says it is actively working on ultrathin, bendable glass for foldable smartphones. Gorilla Glass maker Corning has told both Wired and CNBC that the company expects its bendable glass to be ready by the time foldable phones become mainstream.
“Glass today, the current choices out there, they’re not optimal” for folding smartphones, says John Bayne, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Corning in Wired. “In a glass solution, you’re really challenging the laws of physics, in that to get a very tight bend radius you want to go thinner and thinner, but you also have to be able to survive a drop event and resist damage.”
New York-based Corning is currently using glass that is 0.1mm thick and can bend to a 5mm radius. The glass is being developed as a cover glass for foldables and is said to be superior to the plastic polymer being used at the moment. The first-generation foldable phones from Samsung and Huawei come with the plastic-polymer based displays, instead of glass.
“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,” Bayne says. “That’s the trajectory we’re on.”
Wired also spoke to John Mauro, a professor of material sciences at Penn State University, and an ex-employee of Corning. While Mauro agreed to the fact that the plastic screen is better at flexibility, but also highlighted how easily the surface gets scratched compared to glass.
“With the polymer, the molecules can rearrange themselves more easily in response to stress, whereas the glass has a more rigid structure, so the response of the glass is going to be more elastic,” Mauro says. “The structure of the glass will be able to recover after the deformations.”
The revelation that Corning is working on strong, bendable flexible glass has sparked rumours of Apple secretly developing a foldable phone. Last year, Bank of America Merrill Lynch said that Apple could announce a foldable phone as early as 2020.
The Cupertino company has filed a number of patents, suggesting that the Tim Cook-led company might launch a foldable phone in the near future. Apple has used Corning since the very first iPhone.
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