Maybe I don't want a transparent phone after all

Evan Selleck
Contributing Editor from  Arizona
| February 18, 2013

I watch a lot of science fiction movies. I read a lot of books that have science fiction elements. I love science fiction because it’s a way to connect our future with something right here and now. More than that, a lot of the things we see in science fiction are created in one way or another into something we can use. Eventually. I think there is still so much we have to create, and science fiction is a way for us to see what that is, long before we ever have it in the real world.

In the past, and now over the years, I’ve scribbled my thoughts down on how I think elements from certain science fiction pieces might integrate into our lives, and asked what you think of the idea. Pulling from things like Minority Report, or more recently the robot-punching movie Real Steel. The implications of your phone helping advertisements react to your presence, or phones that look more futuristic than functional, are all interesting things to talk about. Are we ready for those things now? Or is it better off waiting for several years down the line?

Since late 2012, the bulk of the conversation regarding the mobile industry has been focused around a plateau. We’ve reached a plateau in the hardware department, so it’s up to designers to create the next evolution, if not an out-right revolutionary shift in software. That’s still true, I think. We have reached a plateau, for the most part. And, truth be told, that isn’t a bad thing. That allows for the best part of our smartphones, the software, to start taking more of the limelight. I’m genuinely looking forward to seeing what new features our favorite manufacturers have to show off this year.

But, that doesn’t mean the hardware development folks out there are resting on their laurels. Far from it. We all know that there are more people out there than we can count, all working on coming up with the next best piece of hardware for our smartphones. Foldable displays. Maybe a whole phone shoved into a watch (that’d be worth more than $399). These ideas are just the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much more to consider, to imagine, that we could see some pretty exciting things this year.

Even if it is all tucked away in research and development for now.

One of those ideas, for example, is transparent displays. Anything that we see this year may be new and interesting, but we all know that this isn’t the first time we’ve seen something like this. These ideas take time to formulate, and even longer to create into something that could someday be functional. Interestingly enough, it looks like at least one company is trying very hard to make anyone’s dream of seeing a transparent phone this year come true.

They’re known as Polytron Technologies, and they are located in Taiwan. As you can see from the image above, they do indeed have a prototype of a fully transparent device. If you watch the video in Alex’s initial report, you can see that they’ve got room for batteries, speakers, and even a microSD card slot. It’s noted that the very top of the phone, where the speaker is, and the bottom where the other internal pieces are located, will be covered by non-transparent pieces, so you don’t have to see those pieces of hardware in every day usage.

So, while the top and bottom will not be transparent for the end user, the mid-section certainly will be. The whole display. You’ll be able to see right through your phone when you’re not busy interacting with it, which presumably would be via a touchscreen surface. All in all, a transparent phone seems like a pretty cool idea.

In theory, at least. I think I’ve completely changed my mind when it comes to this particular piece of science fiction flare. After watching the video of the hands-on time with the prototype, I think I’d much rather see devices with foldable displays, rather than handsets that I can see right through. And, honestly, that has a lot to do with privacy. I don’t want someone standing in front of me to be able to just look at the back of my phone and see who I’m video calling. Or be able to read my text, even if it would be backwards. Or watch the streaming video I’m watching. Because, let’s face it, for the first year that a transparent phone is on the market, that’s exactly what would happen.

People will stare.

But it goes beyond the first year of inclusion with the other “regular” smartphones. I think that privacy issue wouldn’t go anywhere, simply because of the design of the phone. I’d be willing to bet that many, many people would not be willing to give that up, simply to have something as neat as a transparent phone.

Then again, maybe just the idea of owning something as unique as that would make people overlook that particular issue. Or, maybe designers can figure out a way to make it so people can’t see what you’re doing, just by looking at the back of your phone. Anything is possible, right? Of course it is. We’re making transparent phones!

So tell me, are you ready for transparent phones? Are they going to be all the rage in 2014? Or 2015? Would you sacrifice security to have the next coolest thing? Would you choose transparent displays over foldable ones? Let me know.