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Quest for More Durable Displays

By Max McDaniel

Our display survey revealed a consumer sentiment that should surprise no one: cracked mobile screens are a big problem worldwide. In fact, the leading aftermarket smartphone purchase is for protective cases. So while the great innovators in the mobile industry have been successful in making smartphones thin and beautiful, consumers, ironically, are sticking them into clunky plastic cases.

Well, it turns out the same innovators who created such amazingly thin, light and highly functional smartphones (with the help of Applied Materials display technology) are already developing durability improvements that may eliminate the need for protective covers.

Applied is working closely with customers and others in the industry to develop manufacturing technologies that not only deliver high-quality, power-efficient mobile displays, but also enable more durable screens that can withstand being dropped and can better endure wear-and-tear over time.

The most straightforward way to make mobile displays more durable is to strengthen the glass used to build them, especially the protective cover glass. The industry’s glass makers have done a remarkable job of improving glass durability over recent years and continue to innovate in this area.

Another development direction by some companies is replacing the display glass with an even harder clear rigid material, such as sapphire. This is being adopted in smaller devices such as smart watches, but not in phone displays yet.

Finally, there is a move towards replacing some or all of the glass with transparent flexible materials – creating displays that bend but don’t break. There are several key developments required to enable this technology, including lower thermal budget processing and introducing barrier films to protect sensitive layers from contamination. Organic light emitting diodes (OLED),  a display technology that is gaining some traction in mobile devices, is also considered a more suitable display technology than LCD for flexible since it doesn’t require the precise spacing between the layers as liquid crystal. However, without glass to encapsulate the sensitive OLED material, more deposited films must be introduced to protect it from environmental damage.

Because Applied has such broad capabilities in precision materials engineering for displays, we are using our expertise to develop technologies in all of these areas (low temperature, barriers, OLED deposition and encapsulation).

The need for more durable screens creates opportunities for differentiation and growth for us and our customers. In the near future, consumers won’t have to buy a new phone every time theirs is dropped on the sidewalk.

However, dropping it into a puddle or the jacuzzi – well that’s another topic and another technology that needs additional innovation by Applied and others in the industry.

Paving the way for unbreakable displays is just one of the ways Applied’s Display team is addressing consumer demands revealed in our survey.

Next time, we’ll discuss displays as a growing status symbol and other consumer purchasing motivations, as well as Applied’s role in powering tomorrow’s advances in your TV, tablet, smartphone and beyond.

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