Bending the future

Rui Shi

Last week, Nokia unveiled its much-anticipated line of Windows-based smartphones at Nokia World 2011. In the past couple of years, the once-leading telecom giant has steadily fallen behind its competitors because of the popularity of the iPhone and Android-based phones. Nokia is hoping to reclaim some of its old magic by making a splash with the new line of Lumia phones. However, another device in the works could prove to be a much bigger game-changer.

Flexible display technology has been in the works for the better part of the past two decades. As the name implies, this technology allows screens to be twisted, folded, rolled up and anything else that people can think to do with a paper-like material. While not able to go to such extremes, Nokia showcased a “bendable” phone at its event. Instead of using traditional touch gestures, this device uses bending and twisting motions to scroll through web pages, zoom in and out of pictures and navigate through the other functions of the device. While they may not seem practical, these features scream potential.

One of the more obvious possibilities is the ability to operate a device without even looking at it. Rather than pulling out an mp3 player, a person could simply twist or squeeze the device to change songs or increase the volume. These devices would essentially be able to physically remember different motions and act accordingly. Want to make a call? Just squeeze the phone. Want to take a picture? Just stretch out the phone.

These new control mechanisms will change the way people interact with mobile devices, and many companies are taking stock in this idea. Major players such as Samsung are hoping to introduce these “bendable” devices into the consumer market within the next couple of years.

The concept of a “bendable” device is just a microcosm in the larger scheme of things. The main crux of this technology lies within the concept of the paper-thin display. This flexible display technology has the potential to replace many modern gadgets.

This development will completely change the way students interact with electronic devices. A student could pull out a piece of paper from his or her pocket, unfold it and catch up on his or her favorite TV show during lunch. With a flick of the fingers, the same student could change from watching the TV show to reading an editorial in The Daily Texan.

Essentially, any device with an LCD screen could be replaced with just a single piece of flexible display. Students would no longer have to carry back-breaking laptops to class, and these laptops, along with phones, mp3 players and other technology, could fit into a virtual piece of paper. Heck, the flexible display could even replace paper itself. In a culture that favors form and portability, this technology is king.

Flexible screen technology could also provide environmental benefits. Because of its makeup, the flexible screen is power-efficient and would exhibit a low carbon footprint. The future replacement of newspapers and notebooks by the flexible screen would mean a reduction in the number of trees that are cut down.

The implementation of an all-purpose piece of paper is still a long way off. However, companies are taking a step in the right direction by investing in this technology.

Shi is an electrical and computer engineering junior.