TCL’s status as a major display manufacturer is only growing, coming from the top-down with its brilliant TVs and from the bottom-up with its growing smartphone business. But it isn’t resting on those technologies, it’s pushing forward with new form factors and display tech. At a CES 2021 press conference, TCL had two rollable displays to show off: One in a vertical-rolling smartphone-like display, and another in an insane 17-inch “scrolling” tablet display.
The 6.7-inch rolling smartphone concept is something I’ve seen many times over, even from TCL itself. This one’s slightly different because it’s a vertical-rolling display, showing a small near-square display expand out to a “normal” smartphone shape. That’s in contrast to earlier TCL concepts, and LG’s just-teased rollable, which start as a normal smartphone and expand out of one long side to a tablet-like design.
The concept certainly looks neat, and we can see the pathway for this technology making it into real smartphones in the not-too-distant future. On the other hand, there was another announcement right after it that looks like pure science fiction: A 17-inch “scrolling” display.
The extremely futuristic (and completely computer-generated) promo video shows how the huge screen can open up like a scroll, with the main components of the device on one side and a simple grab handle on the other to expand the display. The screen can roll up tightly into one side, and when expanded give you an incredible 17-inches of display space.
The display is actually a printed OLED panel, which is interesting in its own right and is just 0.18mm thick. The release likens it to a piece of paper flapping in the wind, and if that sort of flexibility is truly possible, there’s no doubt that it would be able to roll up into a tight scroll as was shown. The problem is, the rest of the device — it’s incredibly difficult to get a fully-functioning mobile device fit into that sort of a tube form, on top of the mechanism to scroll the display in and out. That’s why this is effectively still science fiction, not reality — but we want to believe.
These announcements technically came from TCL CSOT, which isn’t the TCL we know. It is a separate company owned (in part) by TCL that manufactures displays, and not the proper TCL that releases name-brand products. This is an important distinction because TCL today also teased that it will be releasing a foldable smartphone in 2021 — that’s most likely to be a traditional one-fold phone like the Galaxy Z Fold 2 or Motorola RAZR 2020, and not a rollable. But TCL CSOT technology can easily make its way upstream to a TCL product, as well as head out into the market for another company to use the display in its own mobile device design.
The future will look like this, we just don’t know when.