Foldable smartphones have nailed many innovations in hardware and software, but there is one item that device-makers have not cracked: the bendable glass. Foldable smartphones today use a plastic material to cover the sensitive, flexible electronic display. But what if ultrahard diamond protects those screens from dust and further damages?
Which perhaps isn’t as crazy as it sounds? One business we talked in CES last week believes it’s found a way to make super-hard ultralight glass for foldable smartphones using diamond glass.
The holy grail of foldable smartphone design is bendable glass. Until now, the flexible plastic displays have been more prone to damage than hard glass from accidental scrapes. Without a protective layer, the internal workings of the phone can crack with heat, water, dust, and sharp objects. Samsung bore the brunt of this fact when its Galaxy Fold suffered many forms of screen damage before the phone went on sale officially.
Foldable smartphones, with their high prices and untested designs, are a tough sell as it is. A good cover material to protect against drops and scratches might help shift foldable mobile phones from expensive curiosities to devices that might one day replace your typical shingle-shaped smartphone.
Gorilla Glass-maker Corning has shown glass that’s thin enough to fold without cracking, but it’s still in development and is not available commercially. If it were, today, we would see plenty of foldable smartphones. Without a ready supply of glass that was lightweight enough to fold in half and sturdy enough not to crack, split or break, device manufacturers had to choose to wait for new material or work with what they had.
Enter Miraj Diamond Glass, a glass that is made from nano-diamond materials developed in the laboratory. It is sprayed onto a surface in a layer measuring just 100 nanometers, or 1/10,000 of the thickness of a hair strand. Diamond glass can either cover a sheet of plastic (polymer) or a slip of bendable untreated glass. It’s complicated, the company says, and it’s going to be completely foldable.
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“Nano-diamond is semi-flexible by itself, and we can coat flexible glass,” said Adam Khan, founder and managing director of Akhan Semiconductor, who is creating Miraj Diamond Glass.
“It’s a conformable coating so that you won’t lose any of that foldability. Things that we’ve heard from the OEMs are that they would like it because the [typical] glass as it is isn’t strong enough in a foldable context, so this should go toward strengthening that structure,” he further said.
Diamond versus plastic screen
Besides being one of the most durable substances on Earth— diamond glass allegedly withstood lasers in a recent test with Lockheed— diamond crystal may not experience the same unsightly creasing of the screen that occurs where the Huawei Mate X, Motorola Razr, and Galaxy Fold screens fold in half.
Khan said Miraj Diamond Glass might also cover the casing of a foldable smartphone, so vendors may not need to use large, bulky steel reinforcements inside the smartphone to sustain a super-thin screen on top. The diamond glass will paint the ceramic straight away.
The material also repels water and surface oils without any additional oleophobic coating, which is typical of smartphone materials such as Gorilla Glass, Khan said. Additionally, diamond glass diffuses heat to keep smartphones running cooler, which may, in effect, improve the battery life of devices using this material.
Here’s the biggest shock: Khan claims his company won’t charge more for treatment with diamond glass than Gorilla Glass would for Corning. Khan has not revealed the cost, and Corning has not responded to a request for comment.
Now, some phone-makers may have reason to pick plastic over glass. Naysayers pointed out that diamond glass and sapphire crystal, another substance is known to cover iPhone camera lenses, may be reliable, but may also be more fragile than the chemically protected Gorilla Glass from Corning. Plastic can further be treated, just as Motorola has chosen hard coating for its foldable Motorola Razr.
“When glass fails, it shatters. When plastic fails, it scratches,” said Tom Gitzinger, director and principal engineer of innovation and architecture for Motorola,
Motorola got experience dealing with a rugged plastic topcoat for its Shatter shield cover material on previous Motorola Droid phones, like the 2017 Moto Z2 Force.
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