By Choi Sun-min
The CES (International Consumer Electronics Show) is an annual technology gift for tech lovers all around the world. One of the most notable devices at the 2019 CES was LG’s rollable OLED TV.
Literally, the OLED TV was rolled up in a white box, and it was a breathtaking moment when the display was unrolled. It was graceful. Samsung announced its plan to release its foldable Galaxy phone series in 2019 as well. I dare say 2019 will be the year of the war of flexible displays made by high-tech companies.
However, a foldable phone is different from a rollable TV. Why can’t mobile phones be rolled, unlike a TV?
The problem is batteries. A TV can be supplied with electricity from a wall outlet, but a cell phone can only be powered by its internal battery. Lithium-Ion (Li-Ion) is a type of rechargeable battery widely used in portable electronics, especially mobile phones. Li-Ion batteries are efficient and have high energy density. However, they are also notorious for occasional battery explosions. Readers will remember the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, which could not be carried on planes because this problem. That phone used this type of battery.
Because of this and related problems, the Electrical Appliances and Consumer Products Safety Rules of Enforcement were amended last year. These rules specify two certification systems. One is “safety assurance” and the other is “safety certification”.
Before the amendment last year, Li-ion batteries could be distributed after manufacturers reported they had the assurance of the testing agency that had conducted tests in accordance with the relevant safety standard (KC 61233). Now, the safety certification requires inspections of the factory where the batteries are produced in addition to product testing by the safety certification agency.
The rule is being criticized for its narrow scope in mandating that only Li-ion batteries with an energy density over 700 Wh/L be submitted for testing, while most smartphone batteries fall under that threshold. Moreover, Li-ion is especially dangerous compared to other types of batteries, and so surely high standards of safety are required, as well as a being hard and non-flexible.
Will we see rollable smartphones soon, despite the high safety requirements of Li-ion batteries? Time will tell. In contrast to rapid technological growth, battery technology growth seems to be slow. Nevertheless, just as I could not imagine a rollable TV before I saw one at the beginning of this year, I look forward to seeing flexible portable devices with safe flexible batteries soon.
Choi Sun-min is a junior associate at HMP Law and a member of the Tech & Comms team.