Corning Inc. (GLW), the maker of glass for Apple Inc. (AAPL) iPhones, said it will probably take at least three years before companies start making flexible displays using its new Willow material.
Companies are yet to come up with products that can take full advantage of Willow glass, which can be made in a roll similar to newsprint, James Clappin, president of Corning Glass Technologies, said in an interview in Beijing today. The product eventually will let companies make curved or flexible displays.
"People are not accustomed to glass you roll up," Clappin said after an event marking the opening an $800 million factory for liquid-crystal-display glass. "The ability of people to take it and use it to make a product is limited."
The Corning, New York-based company is producing the glass and making "a lot of effort" to teach "very big name" customers how to handle the spools, Clappin said, declining to elaborate. The introduction of the glass comes as companies including Google Inc. consider making wearable computing devices.
The Willow glass should be used in some simple products this year, Clappin said. Examples may include a flexible barrier for solar panels or as a thin film behind some touch panels, he said.
Corning sent out samples of the flexible glass to makers of phones, tablets and TVs in June. Chief Financial Officer James Flaws said at the time the company hoped it would be available in consumer products this year.
Corning rose 1.1 percent to $12.73 at 10 a.m. in New York. The shares are little changed this year, compared with a 6.3 percent advance for the Standard & Poor's 500 Index.
Google (GOOG) has been working on eyeglass-embedded computers and plans to introduce them in 2014. Apple has a team of about 100 product designers working on a wristwatch-like device that may perform some of the tasks now handled by the iPhone and iPad, two people familiar with the company's plans said this month. Clappin declined to comment when asked whether Corning had any contact with Apple on this project.
Surging global sales of smartphones have helped boost earnings for 161-year-old Corning. Gorilla Glass, which was introduced in 2007, is used in more than 1 billion devices worldwide, according to the company. Corning has sold the glass to 33 electronics makers, including Samsung Electronics Co. and Sony Corp., for use in more than 900 models.
Sales of Gorilla Glass surged 44 percent to $1 billion last year. The product is the second-most profitable and the fastest growing in Corning's history, Chief Executive Officer Wendell Weeks said this month.
Gorilla Glass sales may also grow "dramatically" alongside a projected increase in demand for new touchscreen notebooks, Clappin said.
"We sell a lot of Gorilla Glass in cellphones, but a notebook is 10 times the size, 10 times the area," he said. "Glassmakers sell in square feet. We like area -- the bigger the area, the better."