Once the sole provenance of science fiction serials, foldable glass is an exciting and rapidly evolving new technology that will impact how we engage with our smartphones, tablets, automobiles, wearables, and other smart devices, in addition to ushering in new breakthrough advances in healthcare.
You can get an early glimpse of this technology in select smartphones, like the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip. Featuring an ultra-thin, bendable glass screen built by German glass manufacturer Schott, the Flip looks like your typical Android phone with one difference: it can be folded in half with a satisfying clap. The benefits are clear: once folded, the phone is fortified against drops and takes up less space in your pocket, letting you carry a larger display than you would otherwise choose.
We’re still in the early stages of this technology. As it becomes more widespread, especially with manufacturing giant Corning entering the fray, prices will drop (the Z Flip costs almost $1,400), durability will improve (the glass can only be bent 200,000 times), and use cases will soar.
How will the prevalence of ultra-thin, low-cost, foldable glass impact brands? Looking at smartphones, the obvious impact is that screen sizes will increase significantly, in some cases doubling. From a media perspective, this means that mobile ad creatives and landing pages can become richer and move closer to the desktop experience. Additionally, smartphones that can fold offer two views: a condensed view you see when the device is closed and an expanded view when opened. Brands will have to take both views into account and adjust accordingly.
Beyond smartphones, foldable glass will be integrated into many other verticals. Today, we have smartwatches that are essentially a rectangular screen connected by a wrist strap. Tomorrow, we’ll have one seamless screen that wraps around our wrists, perhaps replacing phones entirely. And while we’re on the topic of wearables, folding glass may usher in new wearable categories: like smart gloves, smart rings, and unique fashion concepts.
Automobiles will be another major adopter of foldable glass screens. Rather than a large square tablet embedded into the car’s dashboard, auto manufacturers will leverage flexible glass displays that integrate fluidly into the car’s controls and entertainment system. As cars begin to drive themselves, those with long commutes will use these displays as much as their home TVs, making them valuable real estate for content and advertising.
Regardless of industry, foldable glass screens mean two things for brands: more digital touchpoints for consumers and new, interesting form factors to leverage.
The obvious impact in healthcare is that we’ll have new ways to reach healthcare providers wherever they are: at home, on their commutes, and in their offices. Less obvious and far more impactful, is that foldable glass promises to revolutionize healthcare tools and processes with exciting new smart products.
For example, researchers at Brigham Young University found that foldable glass can enable lab-on-a-chip devices, which dramatically streamlines and simplifies diagnostics, such as with blood. How it works is that instead of shipping blood to a lab to analyze over days, a smart vial built with foldable glass can read the results on the spot, requiring only drops of blood instead of ounces.
Other use cases being explored around the world include, as a small sample, light therapy (blankets that emit light using thin, foldable glass covers), patient monitoring (large flexible screens that can be moved quickly from one patient’s room to another), and wearable bio-sensors.
While smartphones may be the use case that makes foldable glass famous, they represent only a small fraction of this exciting technology’s potential. The brands who move quickly to capitalize on the new form factors, touchpoints, and data streams it enables will win outsized, first-mover returns.