LG’s Stretchable Screen Promises a Future of Shatter-Proof Tech

By | February 11, 2024

A person demonstrating the flexibility of LG's new 12-inch high-res OLED panel.

Image: LG

The price of gadgets is only going to continue to increase, making the sting of accidentally dropping your smartphone or tablet and watching the screen shatter to thousands of pieces even more painful. But what if screens were the most durable part of a touchscreen device? That’s a future I’m ready for, and one that LG is diligently working on.

Although it seems like OLED technology is the future of screens and displays because it consumes less power, allows devices to be made thinner and lighter, produces vibrant colors and eye-pleasing contrast ratios, and can be curved and bent without damage, it also relies on organic compounds to create its self-emitting glow, which can degrade over time. That’s why there’s so much buzz around microLED technology, which is even more energy-efficient than OLEDs, while potentially producing even brighter images without the need for a separate backlight. LG’s latest research demonstrates yet another benefit of microLEDs: they can also be stretched and bent like OLEDs without being damaged.

A person demonstrating the stretchability of LG's new 12-inch high-res OLED panel.

Image: LG

The 12-inch panel can display full-color RGB images (LG doesn’t specify exactly how many colors it’s capable of reproducing) and a resolution of 100PPI. That’s a bit behind the resolution of screens like the 12.9-inch panel in the iPad Pro, which hits 264PPI, but drop that iPad onto a sidewalk and you’ll probably wish you had LG’s latest and greatest inside it.

Outside of the rigid frame of a tablet or a desktop display, this 12-inch panel can be stretched a full two inches to 14 inches diagonally, and then snap back to its original size without requiring a warranty claim. Its underlying structure uses S-shaped micro wire structures that act like springs to accommodate the stretching, and while the technology isn’t quite at the point where you can crumble up a tablet and stuff it in your pocket like a handkerchief—it’s tethered by a ribbon cable to electronics that provide power and drive the image on-screen—LG believes it’s one step-closer to expanding the potential use cases for microLED displays.

Do you remember when BMW wrapped an SUV in color-changing, black and white E Ink screens earlier this year? Imagine that car instead becoming a rolling animated billboard at night, but one that can easily survive a minor fender bender when other drivers inevitably get distracted.

Update – November 9, 8:18am EST: This story incorrectly stated that LG’s new stretchable display is based on OLED screen technology, when it’s actually leveraging microLEDs instead.