Samsung previews foldable, rollable 'Youm' smartphone displays

Microsoft joined Samsung at CES to show a research project that works with Xbox Kinect

Flexible OLEDs that can be rolled up or wrapped around the sides of smartphones are getting closer to reality. Samsung Electronics showed some of its prototype flexible displays at CES Wednesday and launched a new brand name for them, Youm.

Microsoft was also on hand, showing a research project for its Xbox Kinect that makes video games look like they extend beyond the edges of a TV screen onto the walls and floor.

Samsung is one of several companies showing flexible, bendable displays at CES. Corning said on Monday that it can now build toughened Gorilla Glass screens that curve around devices, and another firm showed ultrathin, flexible touchscreen components.

OLEDs emit their own light, so they don't need the thick, heavy backlight that makes LCDs rigid. At its CES keynote Wednesday morning, Samsung showed an OLED screen the size of a smartphone that could bend like a sheet of paper but appeared to display bright, vibrant colors.

"We're so confident in the market potential for flexible OLEDs that we're creating an entire new line under the Youm brand name," said a Samsung engineer who showed the prototype.

He also showed a prototype smartphone fitted with one of the displays, which wrapped around the device to cover the left and right edges. It means if the phone were lying face down on a table, important messages could be displayed running along the edges, like a ticker display.

Samsung put together a video to show other possible uses. They included a USB stick with a display that could be rolled out the side like a scroll and then rolled back when it's no longer needed.

Samsung didn't say when the flexible displays or curved screens will be available on phones, but it's not the only company working on that. Earlier this week, an executive from Corning said its Gorilla Glass will start to appear in curved devices this year. Corning has partnered with Atmel, which developed an ultrathin, flexible touchscreen technology that works with its glass.

Microsoft is also getting in on the act. Eric Rudder, its chief technology strategy officer, came on stage to show a Microsoft Research project called IllumiRoom, which builds on its Xbox Kinect and projects light on the walls and floor of a room, to make video games look like they extend beyond the edges of the screen.

"Our system uses the appearance and the geometry of the room (captured by Kinect) to adapt the projected visuals in real-time without any need to custom pre-process the graphics," Microsoft says on the project's website.

A Microsoft video shows what it looks like.

Rudder didn't say when the immersive technology might find its way to market.

James Niccolai covers data centers and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow James on Twitter at @jniccolai. James's e-mail address is james_niccolai@idg.com

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