Written by IEEE | July 20, 2015 | Updated: April 3, 2017
One of the most exciting changes on the horizon has to do with flexible displays, a capability that ranges from a small degree of flexion to screens that can roll and fold.
With the predominance of innovation that goes inside our machines – the computing technology itself – it’s easy to forget that the actual form of our devices is another kind of technology that can be every bit as complex and transformative as the circuitry inside.
One of the most exciting changes on the horizon has to do with flexible displays, a capability that ranges from a small degree of flexion to screens that can roll and fold. Recent stats from TechNavio suggest the market for flexible screens will grow by more than 100 percent by 2019. Let’s take a look a quick look at how non-rigid displays will change our viewing landscape.
Conceptually, the idea that a screen can accommodate a small degree of bend is not completely foreign. We see bendable plastic in many forms every day. In fact, we might expect some plastic devices to bend at least slightly in order to withstand ordinary wear, such as the placement of smartphones in pockets or for protection when dropped. Some smartphone manufacturers have designed a permanent bend into their cases and screens to make them easier to hold and see.
Manufacturers are also developing displays that can actually roll up like scrolls for easy transportation. Especially now that we can store and process files in the cloud, roll-up screens enable whole new behaviors in computing and entertainment. It’s entirely possible that personal computers as we know them could be reduced to an electronic scroll and a processor the size of a coffee bean. Or if you’re going on vacation and can’t live without your 90-inch TV, roll it up and take it with you.
Perhaps the most fascinating development in flexible display technology is recent patent activity suggesting surfaces that aren’t just bendable, but can change function based on the type of bend. There are materials in development that can flex to enable different kinds of touch functions and that can suddenly become porous to activate underlying speakers or microphones. In this scenario, cases would not have to have extra holes or ports, ushering in a whole new era of device design.
When it comes to glass, new innovations from the world’s leading glass makers suggest thinner sheaths that can be wrapped around smaller objects like smartphones while still supporting critical components like touch sensors. This can also facilitate the immersive viewing experience of curved TV monitors.
Ultimately, our imaginations can’t help creating visions of devices that can hold the forms we bend them into or that can even be folded up like a napkin. And instead of having the shape of our devices dictated by the manufacturer, perhaps what we take home from the store is a true tabula rasa that we shape and re-shape as we please.