Smartphones and folding screens: bending rules for your human hand

George Colony at Forrester research writes about “Apple’s Folding Future“, and some people are skeptical.

I’m not, actually. Foldable screens is something that I’ve predicted will happen. Yes, it’s something that you and I  have seen in science fiction, and in recent years it has become reality, not just in a foldable form (2009), but a bendable form (2012), courtesy of Samsung.

Samsung-flexible-AMOLED-display_CES

But, far from just a fancy city-night lighting toy, it will solve a number of problems, such as the limitations to the size of smartphones.

iphone-handThe fixed factor is the size of the human hand. It’s this size that makes most phones about the size of an iPhone, and the Samsung big phones “comically large“. We’re forced to design it for that size, and that is ergonomics. Anything larger is uncomfortable. For a long time, the thinking is that we can’t make phones any bigger without making them uncomfortable to hold. That’s why some said in the past that the iPhone will never have a screen larger than 3.5″.

But we know today that that’s not true. Not only has the iPhone stretched to 4″, there are Samsung’s galactic screens as well. All’s well for people with big hands, for people whose need for a large screen outweigh discomfort, for people who don’t make many phone calls (or people who don’t mind holding a big tablet to the ear to make phone calls), and for those (i.e.women) who keep their phones in their handbags.

Since we can’t evolve larger hands soon, but we still want larger screens, one solution would be to make the phone collapsible or foldable. That way one can hold it like a phone when making calls, and still transform it into a bigger screen when needed.

Fold-Screen-Smartphone-from-Samsung

Foldable phones and computers already exist, so to speak – clamshells. But those are still awkward because of the relative bulk, and that half the device is keypad. But with the coming of foldable screens + existing touchscreen technology… maybe what we need is truly a foldable screen with no hinges. That would make more sense, something flat like a typical smartphone today, that unfolds without hinges into a larger tablet.

Picture from http://blogs.forrester.com/george_colony/13-04-02-apples_folding_future
Picture from http://blogs.forrester.com/george_colony/13-04-02-apples_folding_future

Don’t get thrown off by the above horribly congested “prototype” shown at Forrester – one thing one should bear in mind is that, when one paradigm (in this case the concept of the screen) changes, other paradigms will shift and change as well, so we should not expect to see a wall of icons. The phone OS for a bendable screen won’t be the same as that for a fixed screen,

George Colony admits he has no inside knowledge of what Apple is planning, but I do agree that this is a viable future. Coincidentally, Apple recently patented a curious “iPhone with wrap-around display and seamless glass housing” that seems to be using a folded screen in some way, though it doesn’t seem to unwrap, so to speak.

Oh, and you would imagine that having such a MASSIVE screen estate will mean your battery won’t even last half a day. Don’t worry – the battery side of the equation is being resolved as well. Truly, we live in an age of #scifireality.

Do check out the Samsung videos demonstrating their bendable screen prototypes and ideas – some people may not agree with the size of their smartphones (it’s the main reason I don’t want one, too big for my pocket), but their daring ideas and quick innovation is admirable.

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