Samsung is reportedly ready to supply foldable screens to competing companies | GeekComparison

Promotional image of foldable smartphone.
enlarge / The Galaxy Z Flip (left) and Galaxy Z Fold 2 (right). Samsung will now sell both display styles to competitors.

An ETNews report claims that Samsung Display is poised to expand its foldable display business and start selling it to companies other than Samsung Electronics’ phone division. Flexible panels were previously exclusive to Samsung’s phone division, but the report says Samsung Display plans to sell 1 million panels in the open market this year. ETNews cites a source saying that “multiple Chinese smartphone markets” are working with Samsung and plan to ship devices in the second half of 2021.

A million panels isn’t a huge offering compared to the ~350 million smartphones sold annually, but that’s about the size of the foldable market in these early days. According to the latest figures from Canalys, 1.74 million foldables were sold from September 2019 to June 2020, representing the first generation of foldables, before the launch of the Galaxy Z Fold 2. Samsung hopes to grow that number significantly in 2021, ETNews reports. . Samsung Display will supply 10 million foldable screens to the telephone division.

It doesn’t sound like the third parties buying from Samsung will have much leeway in terms of form factor. According to the report, Samsung offers two types of displays: one that folds over the horizontal axis like the Galaxy Z Flip, and one that folds over the vertical axis like the Galaxy Z Fold. The industry isn’t quite sure what a flexible display smartphone should look like, and at trade shows, various companies have thrown all sorts of wild form factors. There are concepts for roll-up display smartphones, outward-folding displays such as the Huawei Mate X, and tri-fold smartphones that fold up like a wallet or brochure. It doesn’t sound like Samsung will be using any of those form factors yet.

Not the normal way Samsung does business

This report marks the end of Samsung’s exclusivity period for its foldable display technology, which was an exception to Samsung’s normal way of doing business. Samsung Display and the Galaxy phone division both fall under the “Samsung Electronics” label, but oftentimes, Samsung’s various divisions treat each other like any other customer. If your goal is to ‘sell as many phones as possible’, keeping special technologies in your home would be a good strategy, but if you’re money possible, it is better to sell to the entire industry. As a whole, Samsung makes more money selling iPhone parts to Apple than selling Galaxy phones to consumers. We’ve recently seen a great example of this “components-first” approach with the rise of OLED smartphone displays with faster refresh rates, where OnePlus, Google and others used Samsung-made 90Hz OLED displays a generation before Samsung.

The folding displays are special. Samsung Display says it has invested six years and $130 million in R&D to bring foldable displays to market, and so far the phone division has had exclusive access to the technology. Presumably, Samsung Electronics was supposed to have a huge competitive advantage and be the only company selling foldable phones for a few years. However, Samsung’s plans did not work out. According to Korean prosecutors, Samsung’s foldable display technology was stolen in 2018 and sold to “two Chinese companies” that were never officially named. A report from Nikkei Asia pinpoints China’s largest display manufacturer, BOE, as a recipient of stolen display technology, and that certainly seems plausible given BOE’s closest competition in the foldable display market.

Foldable BOE screens are the strength of Samsung’s two biggest foldable rivals, the Huawei Mate X and the Moto Razr. As we mentioned above, there are plenty of other companies that prototype foldable smartphones for trade shows, but as far as products really brave enough to hit the market, there are devices powered by Samsung and BOE and maybe one or two small boutiques like Royale. ETNews still qualifies Samsung as the only “mass market” supplier of flexible displays, a nice conclusion given that other devices appear to be mostly paper launches with minimal distribution or constant inventory issues. To zoom in on the extremely small foldable segment, a report from industry tracker Display Supply Chain Consultants recently estimated Samsung’s 2020 foldable smartphone market share at 88 percent.

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