Could you imagine a world with smartphones... that bend?

Anna Scantlin
Contributing Editor from Kansas City, MO
Published: November 30, 2012



Starting as early as the 1800's when interest in 3D film-making was just a spark or an idea, those involved in the technology field seemed to be extremely interested in the possibilites we had regarding 3D technology. The idea has evolved over time, and we continue to progress on the idea to this very day. Our own phone industry has even expressed interest in 3D technology by creating the HTC EVO 3D (now, whether you consider the EVO 3D a success or a bust is a different story). Other notable objects in the modern-day tech industry that emphasize 3D are gadgets like the Nintendo 3DS or 3D HDTVs. CGI effects in movies are steadily becoming more realistic, and even integrating 3D showings in movie theatres. But what if 3D wasn't necessarily our future? What if things started rolling back towards 2D?

I once asked what you thought phones would be like in the future. Just when we think things can't get any better, somebody comes up with something completely out of the box and blows us away. Well, technology might be doing that "thing" it always does and takes us by surprise with this innovative idea: smartphones that bend, fold, and twist. Sounds crazy, but when you think it about it, it could happen - and the plans are already in motion.

According to BBC News, the new flexible smartphones are said to be available sometime in 2013. Companies we hear about every day like LG, Nokia, Sony, Sharp, and Philips are in on the gig - although it's predicted that Samsung will be the first to put their flag on this moon. 

How exactly will they make smartphones bend? That's the real question here. 

In the report, they name two different kinds of technology that will be used to create these new gadgets. The first type is using a material called graphene. Graphene is described as a monolayer of carbon atoms on top of chicken wire, and is currently the thinnest material to exist. Graphene is literally only one atom thick. The video in the news article explains that you can print most of the components that will go in these graphene-based future phones, such as the antenna, the screen, etc. Their new devices wouldn't be made entirely of graphene as there would still be a protective cover for the device. The device would be in full color and function like a smartphone.

The second type of technology they talk about comes from a company called Plastic Logic, where their main focus is using electrophoretic e-ink display (which you may recognize from devices such as Kindles or Nooks). Michael Banach, Senior Research Manager at Plastic Logic, explains in the video interview their unique approach to producing flexible smartphones. He explains that they take the optical component of the display - which is already flexible - and adding a second flexible set of electronics behind the screen. So basically, they are taking an e-reader and expanding on the idea. Kindle and Nook screens that use the e-ink display have a flexible screen, but at the time they were made required to be set on a more solid set of hardware. Their hopes at Plastic Logic is to make a large array of devices using this technology, including smartphones and wristwatches. They do explain that with this technology, you're not going to get the same color possibilities as you can with your current emissive display technologies, but the pros of this type of display means low battery consumption and easy daylight readability. They predict this type of technology is meant to be used more as a secondary display, perhaps on the back of a phone or on a type of compatible case.

Both approaches are incredible, but judging by looks alone and the interviews in the video graphene will be the road most manufacturers will take to create their flexible smartphones as it allows both color and flexibility. 

I could see this idea becoming very popular. I myself would be completely interested in a product like this. Can you imagine a world where we could be as clumsy as we want and not have our heart stop when our phones drop (or in this case, float) to the ground? I could hand my son my phone and he could throw it 'til his little heart's content and nothing would happen. When I get angry at somebody on the phone I can just wring the entire device like a wet rag and instantly feel better about life. Amazing! Just amazing.

It's going to be interesting seeing this idea develop over the next few years. I would be surprised to see these phones show up as soon as next year, but if they do I would be more than willing to try one of them out. 

What do you think about this revolutionary idea? Could you see yourself owning a phone that Samsung describes as "foldable, rollable, wearable and more, [and] will allow for a high degree of durability through their use of a plastic substrate that is thinner, lighter and more flexible than… conventional LCD technology," or would you rather have something to grasp, something more solid? Let me know what you think!

Images via Techsmart

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