Corning’s flexible glass might make folding iPhone a winner

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That’s Corning flexible glass, not plastic.
That’s flexible glass, not plastic.
Photo: Corning

Forget what you think you know about glass. Rather than being an utterly rigid material, Corning is close to producing a type of glass flexible enough to go in a future folding iPhone.

This material will be inherently superior to the plastic screens going into handsets like the Samsung Galaxy Fold.

Over time, the plastic polymer screens used in the first-generation models are likely to crease along the fold, John Mauro, a professor of materials science and engineering at Penn State University, warned Wired.

Corning flexible glass to the rescue

Mauro previously worked at Corning, a company known for creating the Gorilla Glass that’s used in so many phone screens. But now Corning wants to make flexible displays for future models. It just needs a bit more time to, well, iron out the creases, metaphorically speaking.

The company can already make a type of glass that’s 0.1 millimeter thick that can bend to a radius of 5 mm without breaking. The material isn’t ready to be used in a phone screen because it’s too likely to shatter if the device is dropped. And we all know, phones get dropped.

“People either want better performance against a drop event or a tighter bend radius. We can give them one or the other; the key is to give them both,” John Bayne, SVP and GM for Corning Gorilla Glass, told Wired.

Glass won’t develop a crease after its been folded and unfolded thousands of times. “The structure of the glass will be able to recover after the deformations,” promised Penn State’s Mauro.

Waiting for a folding iPhone

Bayne says his company may have a flexible glass ready to go into a foldable phone in a couple of years, and maybe even sooner.

That might be right on time for a folding iPhone. Apple isn’t expected to release one until 2020 at the earliest. CEO Tim Cook and Co. could be waiting for Corning to produce the material needed for the most important component.

A glass that could bend to a 5 mm radius would be right for an iPhone that follows the pattern of the Huawei Mate X, which folds with the screen on the outside.