Whether the world is ready or not, smartphone makers have begun experimenting with foldable designs, notably with Samsung launching its Galaxy Fold and Huawei countering with its Mate X. This probably will not be the last of their kind—rumor has it Apple might release a folding iPhone as well. Seeing an opportunity, Corning, the company behind Gorilla Glass, is developing a bendable version of its product.
Gorilla Glass is used on many smartphones, including several of Samsung's Galaxy and Note devices, Motorola's G series, Sony's Xperia line, and the list goes on. Just as Qualcomm has come to power a large of number of handsets with its Snapdragon hardware, Corning has had similar success protecting those devices with its durable glass.
Folding phones like the Galaxy Fold present a unique challenge, though. It's also where durability might matter the most, and Corning is trying to beat out the competition in developing a bendable glass for those types of devices. Easier said then done, going in that directly means using a thinner material than a typical slab of Gorilla Glass.
Huawei Mate X
"To go to a tight bend radius, you have to go to a glass that's much, much thinner than what you have today, and some of the glass we have in our laboratory is thinner than a human hair," Polly Chu, Corning's technology director, told CNET.
That's not easy to wrap one's head around. Where toughness is the name of the game, Corning is playing around with prototypes that measure around 0.1mm thin. These ultra-thin slabs can bend to a 5mm radius. While not the first bits of bendable glass, they are exceptionally thin compared to previous attempts.
Plastic is another option, though Corning ultimately believes that glass will win out.
"If you look at what people demand on their smartphones today, scratch resistance, drop resistance, good optical properties, great tactile feel … I think glass will probably overtake plastic as the material of choice for cover material," added John Bayne, vice president at Corning Gorilla Glass.
This type of thing is in development, which is to say that the Galaxy Fold and Mate X are not using Gorilla Glass. Future folding phones could, though. In addition, Corning is looking at markets outside of just smartphones. In automobiles, for example, curved glass could run along the contours of a dash, effectively transforming the entire dash into a bigger display.
We have little doubt Gorilla Glass will eventually find its way to folding phones. The only question is, what will it add to the cost of these already expensive handsets? Time will tell.