It's time for another look into the future. Will our phones ever truly bend and flex like paper? And what will that tech do for the other devices in our lives? Read on to find out...
But where will this take us? Last year we posted an article on Vodafone Social all about the future of phone screens, but now that 2015 has arrived it’s time to take another look. Enter Vodafone’s Patrick Harrison-Harvey, the man in the know when it comes to what’s coming next in phones…
The new LG G Flex is coming to Vodafone very soon, and when it does it will mark the arrival of truly flexible displays in UK smartphones. That not only makes it more durable when it comes to bumps and drops, but also lets the phone fit more snugly against your face or in your pocket.
Likewise, the Galaxy Note Edge, which is available now, proffers a curved display of a slightly different breed, allowing the side of the phone to act as a secondary, context-sensitive screen. Both devices are really innovative, but what do they say about the future of the humble smartphone display?
“We’re starting now to see different forms of curved display,” says Patrick Harrison-Harvey, Vodafone’s innovation and future phone guru. He’s the man who sees all our upcoming phones before anyone else, so he’s best placed to tell us what the next iteration of bendy screens will look like. So have his views changed since we last spoke?
“The things that we have discussed in the past are real and are working,” he says, referring to devices with clamshell designs that conceal a fold-out, flexible screen. “The question is: how complicated is that manufacturing process? And are the returns worth it? I don’t know the answer to that.”
“But these phones in which the screen bends are in existence,” he adds. “Will there be a commercial, working version of one in the next six months? It’s possible, but a lot of it is down to cost.”
But it is doable: “I admire companies like Samsung that push the boundaries and drive innovation into the market where others will play it safer and keep producing more of the same.” For a look at what Patrick means, check out Samsung’s concept video below:
The reason for this design versus, say, a fully paper-thin, flexible all-in one? Patrick says it’s still down to the physics of where you put things like a battery, the camera and the processors needed to make the phone function:
“There are different ways of doing a battery,” he says, “depending on where you put the bend in the screen and where you put the components. Are we going to see a phone that’s fully flexible like paper, or are we going to see ones where there’s a specific point that you fold? The latter is probably more where we’ll be in the immediate future, where the screen folds open lengthways, and underneath one half of it is the main body with the battery in.
Flexible living space
So does Patrick’s assertion suggest that we won’t see fully twistable, papery smartphones? Until companies find a practical way to house those core smart components it looks unlikely in the immediate future. But, that doesn’t mean that the tech is dead in the water:
“Fully flexible displays are doable,” says Patrick, “but that leads to a slightly weird form factor. The ones that have been demoed live all have a block at the bottom that houses all the smart stuff. So it’s a bit like a blind, where you have the papery screen rolling out from a solid block.
“I actually don’t think that’s very useful for a phone, so I think that’s an idea that’ll come more to home TVs.
“With that kind of design your TV could just scroll down from a box you have attached to the ceiling or the wall. And that would be easier to design and build because it can just sit hidden when not in use, and it also means you don’t have to commit to having a big solid thing in your living room or bedroom all the time. Something that’s a lot smaller becomes more accessible for people – it’s lighter to ship, too. So I think that will come to TVs sooner than smartphones.”
That’s an exciting idea for our future living rooms, and it could mean it’ll soon be time to ditch the bulky LCD flat panel. And as for phones? “It won’t be long until we see phones that fold out with a big, full touchscreen,” says Patrick. And if there’s anyone you can trust about the phones landing soon, it’s him.
More on futurology… Check out our look into the future of the connected home here. Would you like a phone that uses a bendy display to double in size? Let us know your thoughts below!