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Corning: Flexible smartphones using Bendable Willow displays could be 3 years away

Curved and flexible displays for devices like smartphones probably won't appear for at least three more years, according to Corning, which unveiled its bendable Willow material last June.

Corning's Willow Glass, just 100 microns thick and capable of being rolled up like a piece of paper, "could revolutionize the shape and form of next-generation consumer electronic technologies," Corning said last year. Perhaps, but not as soon as some eager consumers may have hoped for - the company told Bloomberg that it could take quite some time for device makers to figure out how to use the material.

"People are not accustomed to glass you roll up. The ability of people to take it and use it to make a product is limited," Corning president James Clappin told the news agency at a factory opening in Beijing.

Corning, which makes the Gorilla Glass used in Apple's iPhones and other mobile devices, cut the ribbon on an $800 million (£527 million) plant where liquid crystal display glass will be manufactured.

Corning began sampling rolls of Willow Glass to some of its customers in the middle of 2012. When the company announced the new material, it said it expected to see Willow Glass used for displays on devices like smartphones, tablets, and laptops as early as this year.

But Clappin said the company has discovered that the learning curve for even handling the material properly has been steep among its "very big name" customers. Corning has been putting in "a lot of effort" to educate partners on Willow glass but viable product designs using the flexible material haven't materialized as soon as the company originally anticipated.

Willow Glass could be used for "some simple products" released in 2013, Clappin told Bloomberg, saying those uses could include "a flexible barrier for solar panels or as a thin film behind some touch panels."

Bloomberg mentioned some early-stage and rumoured products that might potentially use Willow glass, including Google's augmented reality Google Glass spectacles and a smartwatch with curved glass which Apple is rumored to be designing. The news agency quizzed Clappin on the latter product, but he didn't bite, declining to say if Corning had any knowledge of an Apple smartwatch.