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It looks like flexible smartphones aren’t a flash in the pan. Qualcomm today inked a deal with flexible screen maker BOE to include in-display fingerprint sensors in bendable screen panels, which says more about the future of bendable devices than anything else.

The deal commits Qualcomm and BOE to working together to integrate Qualcomm’s 3D Sonic Max sensors into a variety of products with BOE’s flexible displays.

Right now there are only two screen makers for bendable smartphone screens. There’s Samsung, which so far has only supplied screens for its own phones. Then there’s BOE, which makes screens for everyone else. Huawei’s bendable Mate phones and the Motorola Razr rely on BOE screens. TCL has said it’s working on flexible screens for phones, but hasn’t released any retail products yet, just prototypes.

So far, while bendable phones have made a major impact in the press, they haven’t hit big in the market. They’ve all been expensive, and have often been in short supply. Read a bit between the lines, and you see that the companies’ ambitions go beyond smartphones.

“This collaboration is expected to extend from mobile and associated 5G technologies to XR and IoT. Qualcomm Technologies’ broad product portfolio combine … with BOE’s expertise in interface devices and smart IoT systems,” the press release says.

Where could we use a bendable display with a fingerprint sensor that isn’t in a smartphone? Think wearables, security systems, or medical equipment, especially now. When Qualcomm and BOE say “XR” here they don’t necessarily mean the actual lenses of VR glasses, but they may mean control packs, surfaces, or accessories.

There’s another aspect to this partnership, too. Qualcomm makes a lot of its money in China, and over the past year has been nervously trying to keep that business going against political headwinds between China and the US.

“Qualcomm Technologies continuously strives to improve our collaboration in China, and collaboration with BOE will be another example of the dedication and our long-term commitment to driving innovations in this vibrant ecosystem,” said Roawen Chen, senior vice president and chief operations officer, QCT, Qualcomm Technologies, Inc.

All that said, this isn’t going to result in new products very soon. BOE and Qualcomm say they’re going to be shipping flexible panels with in-display sensors during the second half of 2020, which means we’ll likely see devices in 2021.

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