Visual devices ready for a new change…??
Getting thinner may have been all the rage in 2011 but now, it’s all about getting bendy.
It looks like we’re almost at the point where we can challenge one of the basic tenets of visual devices; it seems like screens don’t have to be flat anymore. With touch devices becoming more prevalent in the ‘Post-PC’ world, it’s interesting to see where manufacturers believe the screen is heading.
Screens are getting larger, thus offering more visual real estate. Among mobile phone makers, the major manufacturers of Android-based devices offer a number of options in which the screens themselves are 4.5 inches or more, as is the case with devices using Windows Phone OS. The next iPhone is rumoured to break the 3.5-inch barrier adhered to by iPhones to date.
Simultaneously, devices are also getting thinner. Tablets, phones and ultrabooks are measured in millimetres today, and the thinnest devices seem to be the most coveted. In this race to get thinner, durability becomes of prime importance. That’s why manufacturers are increasingly opting for Corning’s Gorilla Glass 2.0, which offers the toughest screens for those with a propensity to drop their mobile devices.
All of these features, and more, can be found in one possible successor to the current form of mobile device displays: flexible screens. Flexible OLED displays work in a similar way to their less-flexible brethren, with one major exception: they swap the traditional glass for plastic material that is far more flexible.
Plastic screens could enable a never-before-seen range of mobile devices. This could include phones that fold one, two or more times; phones that can be contorted to suit the natural curves of the face; and tablets that fold to create keyboards (resembling laptops) or even fold in half.
Replacing the glass with plastic means you’ll never have to witness another murder scene (one in which you or a friend have dropped a device and then had its screen shatter instantly). Additionally, flexible plastic OLEDs would inevitably be both thinner and lighter than glass displays, allowing manufacturers to pack the device with other hardware that had to previously be sacrificed because of size and thickness constraints.
There are some concerns. Issues like low resolution or the relatively smaller size of these screens are non-issues for us; if manufacturers are teasing availability within a year or two, the screens would have to match up to glass screens in these aspects.
What concerns us is the ergonomics. You can only make a device so thin before it becomes uncomfortable to hold and a tad unwieldy. A look at Samsung’s ‘tablet of the future’ video shows just the kind of device that wouldn’t make much sense in the real world. Also, it’s unlikely that flexible screens will replace paper; even the reusability of a flexible screen will never rival the throwaway cost of a newspaper.
Similarly, naysayers say that the screens cannot be folded but instead only rolled. Still, we could imagine Kyocera’s dual-screen Echo or Sony’s Tablet P benefiting from flexible (foldable) screens. In fact, in 2009, Sony demoed a 4.1-inch flexible screen with a diameter of 4 mm, which could be wrapped around a cylinder while it continued to play video. Unfortunately, the screen also had very average resolution, and therefore wasn’t ready to be rolled out to the market (pun intended). That was, however, over three years ago.
Manufacturers like Samsung, LG and Sony are all in the fray to release this technology at the earliest, with some of them even receiving support from powerful and influential sources. The Korean government, for example, has already tasked LG with creating a 60-inch flexible display.
While their application in commercial spaces – for example, to create giant billboards – is likely to prove innovative, the viability of flexible screen technology for individual consumers hasn’t yet been substantiated. Still, what we’d like is for any one manufacturer to take this futuristic screen technology and break new ground in the mobile device space, and even perhaps change the way we see them.