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CES 2021: Will this be the year of the rollable?

by Ken Hyers | 1月 13, 2021

Smartphone vendors are kicking off 2021 with a bang at CES 2021, with multiple vendors showing off innovative new smartphone displays. If 2020 was the year of foldable display smartphones, 2021 looks set to become the year of rollables.

From LG comes the aptly named LG Rollable. Not many details were given during LG’s CES presentation but word is that the Rollable will be released in 2021. This is in contrast to OPPO, which showcased a similar concept just over a month ago but is not planning on launching it anytime soon.  The LG Rollable display expands in size to become a small tablet. There’s no word on pricing yet, but the device will certainly not be inexpensive – retail pricing well north of $2K would not be surprising.

LG Rollable 

 

Both foldables and rollables offer ways of dynamically expanding the display size of smartphones.  Foldable display smartphones unfold, either like a book or like an old-style flip-phone, while rollable display smartphones unfurl the display, expanding either horizontally or vertically.  Both greatly improve the versatility and usefulness of smartphones but go about it in very different ways.

The drawbacks of foldables, themselves a very new category, are that they require complicated hinge mechanisms and potentially suffer from damage to the display at the point that they fold; this is more likely if the device is used in cold conditions (i.e., outside in the winter).  Rollable display smartphones likely have their own drawbacks but because they are such a new device category of devices there is little information about these yet.

TCL was the second major vendor to showcase rollable concepts. TCL’s concept expands in a different direction from LG’s offering. TCL showcased a prototype of a phone that can lengthen its display. The device has a rollable AMOLED display which can extend from a 6.7-inch display up to 7.8 inches.  The choice to expand vertically is interesting but seems less useful than LG’s example which expands horizontally.  TCL says the device is less than 10mm thick with a 3mm bend radius.

TCL rollable smartphone
 

TCL teased a rollable tablet that expands like a scroll into a 17-inch screen. However, it was only a computer generated teaser, though it indicated the range of products that TCL also has under development.

TCL rollable tablet scroll

Samsung and other smartphone vendors will introduce a number of new foldable display smartphones in 2021.  LG says it will introduce the LG Rollable this year, but no word yet on timing.  Meanwhile both TCL and OPPO have indicated that their rollable offerings will not appear commercially before 2022.

Strategy Analytics continues to forecast foldable display smartphones will outsell rollable display smartphones for the next few years.  Prices will tumble for foldable display smartphones in 2021, making them more accessible to more people.  Foldable display smartphones will also become increasingly robust.  Rollable display smartphones will inevitably suffer teething problems in their first year or two of introduction, even as Samsung’s first try at the Galaxy Fold did.  But Samsung eventually fixed the Fold’s problems (as this reviewer has found after using one for over a year and having dropped his Fold numerous times with seemingly no detrimental effects). 

As development continues, the rollable smartphone form factor will arguably be more robust than the foldable one.  We expect rollable display smartphones will eventually surge in popularity as more products are introduced and pricing comes down.  But, 2021 will not be the year of the rollable, at least in terms of models introduced and volumes sold in 2021.  Our Device Technologies practice, which has extensively reviewed and forecast display technologies, projects foldable display smartphone will outsell rollable display ones at least through 2025, and likely beyond.

Display technology for smartphones are extensively reviewed in our Device Technologies practice.  Clients can access these reports here.

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