Samsung 13-inch stretchable display turns 2D images into 3D surfaces

Samsung is still a few generations away from perfecting its foldable display, as evidenced by the still present crease and still fragile plastic screen protector on top. That, however, doesn't mean it can't play around with other kinds of unconventional displays, like a rollable screen it showed off before. This time, however, it is demonstrating a new kind of display that can only be described as "stretchable." Compared to foldables and rollables, however, this stretchable OLED screen isn't really something that's meant to be touched or felt most of the time.

Foldable displays are more often than not used primarily on smartphones and tablets, making them something you hold and touch while in use. Rollable screens, on the other hand, can be used for things like TVs and display installations, but there have also been attempts to use them on mobile devices. While it's within the realm of possibility to use this 13-inch stretchable display for large tablets, Samsung might instead be targeting TV and non-interactive installations instead.

That's probably because the stretchable screen's primary effect is more visual than tactile. "Stretchable" almost sounds like putty, but anyone who has seen implementations of deformable screens will know that will hardly be the case for this display. It is perhaps better to describe the screen as something that can deform its surface a bit to give the impression of bumps and raised structures.

In the demonstration that Samsung presented at Global Tech Korea 2021, the stretchable 13-inch OLED panel was seen displaying a video of flowing lava. Even more than flowing water, lava's surface is far from being flat and smooth, and mechanisms underneath the panel "push" the screen upward or outward in places where there should be raised surfaces. This gives a true 3D appearance to the image without the need for stereoscopic technologies.

While you can probably touch the 3D bumps, it probably won't be the main purpose of this particular incarnation of the screen. That said, it isn't a stretch (pun intended) to imagine this kind of stretchable display finally solving the tactile and haptic feedback problems of on-screen keyboards. In the hopefully near future, it would be possible to touch screens to have bumps corresponding to keys, making it feel a bit more natural to type on those displays compared to today's flat glass screens.