Possibilities of flexible display expand beyond smartphone: Royole CEO Bill Liu

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Image credit: TechCrunch

The once low-profile Chinese flexible display company Royole grabbed headlines over the past two weeks, becoming the first company to launch a foldable smartphone.

While the smartphone-tablet hybrid stoked much anticipation among flexphone aficionados, for Royole CEO Bill Liu, this is just the beginning. For him, the potential of flexible display technology is great and expands far beyond the world  of smartphones.

FlexPai, Royole’s 7.8-inch device, which was launched last month, can fold 180 degrees without breaking—although it doesn’t fold completely flat and is still a bit “chunky” when packed away into a pocket.

The prices range from RMB 8,999 ($1,296) to RMB 12,999. The smartphone became available for preorder on October 31, with shipment fulfilment in December. According to Liu, the company already has received “a lot of orders.”

Founded in 2012, the Shanghai-based startup’s best-known product was the 0.01 mm thin full-color flexible display, which was released in 2014. Over the past four years, the company has been working on tackling two major problems, according to Liu, who shared his experiences at TechCrunch Shenzhen on November 19.

First was how to mass-produce the screen; and second was defining what applications would be best suited to this technology.

The company resolved the manufacturing question by building a production line in Shenzhen, where it has more than 6,000 employees. The line went into mass-production in June this year, Liu said.

Many have questioned Royole’s ability to develop a smartphone given the company’s origins as a flexible display maker. Others say the company is hyping up the flexphone concept.

“Foldable display technology can find wider application in lots of areas other than smartphone, such as education, advertisement, construction material, smart transportation, to name a few. “For most of the time, partners in different areas would come up with more interesting application possibilities for the technology,” Liu said.

In addition to consumer-facing business, Royole also has business-facing services by licensing the technology to industrial applications like automotive or media. The company recently signed B2B sales contracts worth RMB 4 billion for its flexible screen technology, Liu said.

With contributions from Colum Murphy.