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Samsung shows bendable phone screen

By showing off a phone with a flexible screen, Samsung is hinting at a day when we might fold up our large phone or tablet screens as if they were maps.

The Korean electronics company provided a glimpse of such a device at a keynote speech at the International CES gadget show in Las Vegas, United States, an annual showcase of the latest TVs, computers and other consumer-electronic devices.

Brian Berkeley, head of Samsung's display laboratory in San Jose, California, demonstrated a phone that consists of a matchbox-sized hard enclosure, with a paper-thin, flexible colour screen attached to one end.

The screen does not appear flexible enough to fold in half like a piece of paper, but it could bend into a tube.

The company also showed a video of a future concept, with a phone-sized device that opens up like a book, revealing a tablet-sized screen inside.

The screen uses organic light-emitting diodes, or OLEDs. Only a thin layer of these chemicals is needed to produce a bright, colourful screen. They are used in many Samsung phones already, though with glass screens. For the bendable phone, Samsung laid the chemicals over thin plastic instead of glass.

In a more conventional application, Mr Berkeley demonstrated a phone with a display which is rigid, but bent around the edges of the device, so it can show incoming messages even with a cover over the main screen. In short, OLEDs free designers to make gadgets with curved screens.

It is hard to use a touch screen if it bends away from your finger. Flexible OLED screens have been demonstrated for years, but the OLED chemicals are extremely sensitive to oxygen, so they need to be completely sealed off from the air. Volume production of flexible displays which remain airtight has so far stumped engineers. Samsung's screens are not yet flexible enough to fold, just bend.

Samsung did not say anything about when flexible displays might be commercially available.

"The concept of the flexible screen has been around for some time, but it finally looks as if Samsung is really going to deliver on that technology," said Steve Bell, a technology consultant and president of KeySo Global.

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