Let's be honest, what geek wasn't drooling while sitting in an IMAX theather with their 3D glasses on watching Tony Stark answer a video call from the occupant in the elevator in the Stark skyscraper in The Avengers? The phone Stark was holding wasn't just your typical cell phone. Like in other Iron Man features, Stark was holding a paper-thin, futuristic smartphone with a transparent display.
But the drooling quickly turned to sobs as the lights came back on and you checked your Facebook and Twitter notifications on your giant, dual-core, LTE-wielding average smartphone. Right?
Well, weep no more, gadget lovers!
Japanese wireless provider NTT DoCoMo has partnered with Fujitsu to make transparent smartphones a reality. Yesterday evening, DigInfo.tv reported that the partners showed off a working prototype of their see-through phone at the 2012 Wireless Japanese expo. But that isn't all. With touch panels on each side, the display can be controlled from either the front or back. As strange as it may seem, this presents several advantages.
For example, using an index finger from the backside of the display, you can pull the Android notification bar down without obscuring the display. In a video demonstration from DigInfo.tv, we are also shown that users will be able to utilize a "gripping" gesture. One example shown was by rearranging icons on the Android home screen. Instead of long pressing and dragging the icon to the edge of the screen, you could long press the icon and flick through screens with another finger from the back of the display. Another example was demonstrated by a Rubix Cube game. With one finger on the front side of the display, you can rotate the cube around. By "gripping" it with a finger on the rear side of the screen, you can rotate the individual rows and columns of the cube.
As the video alludes, though, the technology is still very young and still needs quite a bit of work. A spokesperson in the video explains:
"The display is QVGA (320 x 240), at 2.4 inches. We think it needs to be bigger if we're to market this kind of phone. But even in this form, we think it could be used as a sub-display. In that case, it will have a limited display capability, so we think the range of applications could be wider.
Compared with a standard smartphone, this one still has slightly low brightness, so it's a bit hard to view in bright places. We'd like to improve the technology to overcome things like that."
Those problem areas are from a technical standpoint or in terms of performance. But I foresee other issues, possibly in terms of practicality.
Don't get me wrong. Stark's phone is awesome. And this prototype is pretty amazing, too – an impressive feat, to say the least. But it could pose problems with the way we've grown used to using smartphones. You may have to hold the device differently to avoid accidental taps and swipes on the backside of the display. And you have twice the display space to worry about scratching or cracking, crammed into the same physical space. Durability-wise, this thing could be more fragile than even the last to versions of the iPhone.
But my biggest concern is privacy. I don't want everyone around to know what I'm texting my boo or what I'm Google searching. I don't want pictures and other personal or private information being publicized to the world behind my phone. Nosy people looking over my shoulder is bad enough.
That said, I see serious potential in this technology. It would make one-handed phone use far easier to manage, especially for larger phones. For instance, scrolling through your Twitter feed could be done with your index finger from the rear of the phone, thus allowing you to keep your grip with your thumb while you scroll. It could also be used for some rather unique multiplayer mobile gaming.
And, as for the privacy and accidental screen tap concerns, there might be some quick and (relatively) easy fixes. Snapping your phone into a case could black-out the rear side of the display, make it brighter and avert accidental screen taps. Possibilities are endless and the technology is young yet.
I have a feeling it may have a bright future ahead of it.
What say you, ladies and gents? Would you be interested in a two-sided, transparent phone? Or are you okay with your current one-sided display? Do you feel privacy could be a major issue? Durability? Something else? Share your thoughts on this futuristic prototype in the comments below!
Image via CNET