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Why our future is twisted

Once you can make a screen – that hard, rigid thing on your phone, laptop or TV – bend to your will, you can change everything (and if that sounds too literal, that’s because it is!)

brunch Updated: Nov 06, 2011 12:04 IST
Rajiv Makhni

I walk into my recording studio and one of my colleagues says she has something to show me. She proclaims it to be the most unique, most exclusive and most amazing gadget I have ever seen. She fishes out a shocking pink cover and from within its leathery confines slides out... an iPad 2. As I brace myself for something boring and mundane, I notice that the iPad itself doesn’t look right. It seems to curve and curve at a spectacular angle, flexing convexly about an inch and a half right in the middle. That’s just the thin aluminum case.



The shocking part is that the screen also appears to be curved and runs flexibly along the same lines as the outer casing. Even more wonderment follows. The impossibly curved iPad 2 works! There are no cracks, no fault lines, the touchscreen works as do the rest of the insides. How did she manage this uniquely curved iPad 2, the first of its kind anywhere in the world?



It turned out that the ‘bend’ iPad was a gift from her husband, who ran his car over her handbag that contained it. Once the wheels had run over the massive bag and all the screaming and shouting was over, they found that the weight of the car and the rubber on the wheels had left them with this strange, unique and frankly weird contraption. Why the screen hadn’t splintered, why the iPad isn’t in pieces and how in heaven’s name does it work are questions left to the almighty and Steve Jobs sitting at his side. I advised her not to get it repaired, that she was in possession of what nobody else in the world had. She had the world’s first working, flexi-curved


gadget and I had just seen the future!



All Fantasy


Foldable screens and displays have been the stuff of sci-fi legend for ages and numerous device prototypes have been in play for years now. Nokia showcased the Kinetic, a bendy, rubbery flexible little thing that is very futuristic.



Semi-foldable e-readers have been shown and a display the size of a newspaper could be rolled up just like a newspaper. But nothing has made the journey into a real product.



newspapers

The Greatest era of design starts now


It has been predicted by many that the greatest invention and breakthrough of the future will be foldable bendable screens. It’s the one thing that changes the whole technology paradigm. Every single gadget anywhere in the world – its shape, size, materials used, look and feel, the operating system, how you interact with it, the button placement – is dictated by the screen placement. Because the screen is a flat, rigid thing that leaves no flexibility as far as its placement is concerned, you design around it. Once you get rid of this liability, everything changes! You can let your imagination run wild, you can cross any boundary, you can make your wildest fantasy come true. It is said that the greatest era of design will start once a screen can be folded, curved and bended.



The Killer of all categories


One of the greatest problems for designing any device is inventing a way to minimise the size of the device while simultaneously maximising the size of the display. While shape and size and style will change, the greatest benefit will come from size amplification. If you can fold a screen down to a quarter of its size and then open it to its full size at the press of a button, you’ve just made every current product category look foolish. Why would you need a Tablet and a mobile phone? What would be the difference between a Netbook, Notebook and an Ultra-portable? Of what use is a desktop monitor? Why would you need a large-screen TV? It’s all pretty much redundant. A thin cylindrical device can be opened up and used as per the size you need. It can be your mobile phone as is, your Tablet when you need to browse, a Notebook when you want to type out a document and when you press a button, transforms into giant-sized TV.



So, what’s the problem?


mobile

Why aren’t we taking this leap yet? It all has to do with how these screens work. While bendable and curvable screens have been around for a while, the holy grail is true foldable screens. Till you can’t fold ’em in half, you can’t achieve the dream. Many other conditions must still be met: the screen must open thousands of times without creasing, it must be mechanically and optically robust, it must have a hard, protective surface as good as glass and must still be as clear as current screen technology. All this is happening as we speak. Many companies, including Samsung, are working on an active matrix OLED display that is actually mounted on silicone


rubber, which is a hyper-elastic material. Prototypes are working brilliantly and even a quadruple fold has now been achieved (a 4.5-inch screen opens to a breathtaking 18-incher).



The Nokia Kinetic should be out in about two years; single-fold screen devices will be out in about three and multi-fold wonders will be available in about five. If you can’t wait, maybe you can aim for a curved iPad too. Get in touch with me and I’ll give you the number of my friend’s husband – you can utilise his amazing driving skills.



Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3. Follow Rajiv on Twitter at twitter.com/RajivMakhni

From HT Brunch, November 6

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