Forget foldable phones: LG is developing 'stretchable' displays

Samsung Galaxy Fold (Image credit: Aakash Jhaveri)

LG Display has been commissioned by the South Korean government to pursue development of 'stretchable' screens, with huge potential for the flexible display market across smartphones, smart displays, car dashboards, wearables, and even (we can dream) OLED TVs.

A press release for the announcement informs us that "the company is aiming to develop stretchable display products with a 20 percent elongation rate by 2024." 

That means you could be soon be handling a smartphone that can be stretched into an even larger display, much in the way you'd stretch a rubber band to increase its length – with a 6-inch screen stretching to a 7.2-inch display, for example.

Why bother, you may ask? Well, flexible displays are a big concern for today's biggest electronics manufacturers, with multiple foldable smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy Fold having hit the market in the past year or so, and LG Display even developing a rollable OLED TV that can unfurl to various heights when in use.

LG tells us that "stretchable displays are considered to be the ideal next-generation technology because they can shift in ‘free form’, similar to the way a rubber band stretches, while not affecting the quality of displays such as through screen distortion. 

"By comparison, existing commercial flexible display technologies such as bendable, foldable, and rollable panels excel only in particular areas or directions. Thus, stretchable displays are considered the final phase of the evolution of flexible displays."

Stretch your imagination

We imagine the biggest potential for the technology would lie in handheld devices, where grappling with the form factor makes more sense. Maybe you want to zoom in on a picture without reducing the amount of information onscreen, and want to ensure your most-used device can fit easily in your pocket but expand when needed to.

There may well be applications for augmented reality, with the ability to physically influence AR-compatible devices to change what information is being shown.

As we've seen with game controllers like the DualShock 4 or Xbox One controller, the ability to hold tension – say, in a trigger input – vastly increases the amount of control you have over how firmly you grip an object or (as in Horizon Zero Dawn or The Last of Us 2) how tightly you pull back the drawstring on a bow.

It's harder to picture the implications for LG's OLED TVs, through we've been surprised on that front before (with the rollable Signature Series OLED R).

Considering the initial botched launch of the Galaxy Fold, though, the 2024 ETA for a new stretchable display technology may turn out to be optimistic. We'll just keep folding for now.

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Henry St Leger

Henry is a freelance technology journalist, and former News & Features Editor for TechRadar, where he specialized in home entertainment gadgets such as TVs, projectors, soundbars, and smart speakers. Other bylines include Edge, T3, iMore, GamesRadar, NBC News, Healthline, and The Times.