While there has been some chatter lately about bendable glass technology applied to smartphones, watches, or other wearable connected devices, the president of Corning Glass Technologies, which supplies the glass for Apple’s iPhone (as well as other handsets), said products featuring flexible glass are at least three years in the future.
“People are not accustomed to glass you roll up,” according to a Bloomberg News report quoting Corning President James Clappin in Beijing after the opening of an $800 million factory that produces LCD glass. “The ability of people to take it and use it to make a product is limited.”
Announced back in June 2012, this ultra-slim flexible glass, called Willow Glass, has the potential to enable displays to be wrapped around a device or structure, potentially revolutionizing the shape and form of next-generation consumer electronic technologies.
Willow Glass is formulated to perform well for electronic components such as touch sensors and has natural hermetic properties that make it a seal for organic LED (OLED) displays and other moisture- and oxygen-sensitive technologies.
The glass is produced using the company’s proprietary fusion process. The company said advances in fusion forming have made it possible to produce glass that is 100 microns thick—about the thickness of a sheet of copy paper.
Corning began shipping samples of its Willow Glass to customers developing new display and touch applications in June, and is working on other potential applications for the glass, including use in lighting and flexible solar cells.
Clappin confirmed to Bloomberg that this is what the glass was being developed for, and has been making efforts to help “very big-name” clients—he didn’t name names but Apple, Samsung and Google would be likely candidates—figure out how to apply the Willow Glass technology. In addition, the growth in tablet, smartphone and touch-screen computer sales could boost profits for Corning’s scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass.
“We sell a lot of Gorilla Glass in cell phones, but a notebook is 10 times the size, 10 times the area,” he told the news organization. “Glass makers sell in square feet. We like area—the bigger the area, the better.”
Apple and Samsung are reportedly committing large teams to work on producing a watch that also serves as a mobile communications device. Apple’s curved glass smart watch would be made with the company’s manufacturing partner Foxconn, according to February reports in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Earlier reports said the Bluetooth-enabled device would feature a 1.5-inch organic LED screen and be able to communicate with other Apple devices like the iPad or iPhone.