Apple May Soon Market Flexible Tablets


While the world continues to hold its collective breath in anticipation of March 7, when, it is assumed, mighty Apple (NAS: AAPL) will finally unveil its new iPad 3, yet another rumor has surfaced concerning the tech giant. Not only does this surreptitiously obtained memo predict the debut of a so-called "iPad mini" tablet later this year, but something you may never have guessed: Apple may soon be marketing the first flexible iPad.

I first heard of this technology when I received an e-mail from SmartPlanet in January. The story described a flexible ribbon, made up of OLEDs, created by the German companySiemens (NYS: SI) . Without the need for backlighting, the technology was considered a perfect match for thin, flexible devices such as computers and televisions. Unfortunately, according to the article, the science was not yet efficient enough for the market. The ribbon, however, still represented a step forward in the process of bringing OLEDs to the market. The site also had an article from last November on this very subject, withSamsung predicting that it would bring a flexible cellphone to market at some point this year.

Fast-forward to the Mobile World Congress held in Barcelona last week, where Samsung made a big splash by heavily hinting at some new "form factors" for its mobile devices, most probably starring active-matrix OLED technology. And now, this leaked memo by an analyst at Samsung's investment bank apparently confirming the gossip regarding the iPad 3's first-quarter debut, plus predicting the 7-inch mobile product to be introduced in the third quarter. OK, but ... flexible panels?

Actually, analyst JungHoon Chang states that Apple is merely considering the use of flexible panels on its devices at some point in the future. There are hurdles to be overcome, mainly the ability of vendors to please Apple with the quality of the display and the ability to produce mass quantities, quickly. Currently, Sharp is making the attempt to make IGZO LCD panels at its 8G research facility, apparently without much success. Because of this, Chang says, Apple may bypass this step and go straight to the flexible panels, if their supply demands are met.

Samsung is already using the flexible displays on some models of its smartphones, specifically the Galaxy S and Galaxy S2, as well as the Galaxy 7.7 tablet. Therefore, Apple certainly wouldn't be the first to use AMOLED technology, although this document seems to support rumors previously published on AppleInsider that indicate an avid interest in the technology.

My take
I am certain that Apple will soon use flexible displays in its iPads, and possibly other products, too -- but only when issues about quality and resolution, as well as concerns about scope of production, can be settled. It may be expensive, but that has never been a barrier to Apple's sense of innovation. Also, rising labor costs in China already has rivals concerned about price increases, something Apple's big savings account and wide margins can easily absorb. Chang's memo purports that demand for AMOLED displays will increase by 147%, so Apple will want to be at that party, and vendors will do whatever it takes to satisfy Apple. Another happy camper is sure to be Universal Display (NAS: PANL) , whose technology is currently being used by Samsung's flexible gadgets.

Oh, and speaking of rumors, CNET offers this bit of gossip: The name of the new iPad to be unwrapped on March 7 will be iPad HD, not iPad 3. Obviously, we are all going to have to just keep holding our breath for a little bit longer.

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At the time thisarticle was published Fool contributorAmanda Alixowns no shares of any companies mentioned above.The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of Universal Display and Apple and creating a bull call spread position in Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.

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