Flexible, stretchable and bendable electronics are exciting harbingers of the future of technology. There's no question that we want them, but there is a question as to why. What are the practical applications? A prototype Nokia Kinetic Device misses the appeal and true potential of bendable displays by trying to integrate the screen's flexibility into its user experience. The prototype controls actions like zooming and panning images and scrolling through menus with physical twists instead of touches or swipes. It's not a terrible idea, but it involves two hands in navigation--the majority of touch navigation works with just one.
What's the real appeal of flexible screens and devices, then? In some cases, it's breaking new ground and turning a capacitive sensor array into a new kind of skin. In general, the answer is simpler: portability is king.
Flexible electronics will allow us to rethink all aspects of tech use; they'll be easier to store, less prone to shattering, simpler to transport. Costs permitting, we'll see a blurring of mediums as flexible screens allow for e-ink newspapers. Just recently Taiwan's Industrial Technology Research Institute showed off an e-paper that doesn't need an electric charge to hold its image. Once an image is electronically printed, it will stay on the "paper" until it's run through the printer again.
The Flip concept phone recognized that touchscreens are effective on mobile devices and didn't try to reinvent the user experience with its flexible parts. Instead, it bridged the gap between phones and tablets with its multiple screens like a futuristic version of the Kyocera Echo.
Gigantic LCD arrays won't dominate walls and marquees once cheap, thin displays take off--the walls will be displays, themselves. At least Nokia is experimenting with design--that's the key to flexible LCDs and AMOLEDs becoming practical in day-to-day use. The sizes and shapes of objects we're familiar with could completely change with flexible electronics--a classroom globe could allow interactive zooming, Google Earth style, with options to view political boundaries from decades or centuries ago.
Maybe our focus on bendy devices we can roughly shove into backpacks and TVs we can roll up into poster tubes is too dismissive of projects like the Nokia Kinetic Device. Would you rather see malleable electronics change the size and shape of devices or force us to rethink how we navigate and control user interfaces?
Image via Thisismynext