Tech Tuesday – The Future of Phones: Part One – Flexibile Phones

With all of the rumors circulating about the unveiling of the iPhone 6  on September 9, we at the library decided to do a little digging into where the future of phones might be going. While (thankfully) the phone industry has moved away from the image of futuristic cell phones presented by producers in the 80s, every year mobile phone companies release phones with creative new features to entice consumers.

Ok, Star Trek fans. We admit the show was awesome, but the technology was painfully clunky and we’re grateful that this isn’t what cell phones look like today.

The alleged pictures of the new iPhone that were leaked earlier this month show a larger device than the iPhone 5, 5c and 5s, with a truly massive screen. Some of the technology journalists have taken to calling it a ‘phablet,’ because it is a clear combination of the utility of a phone and the screen of a tablet. But that’s an expected upgrade. The Samsung Galaxy S5, Nokia Lumina Icon and the Google Nexus 5 all have 5 inch screens in comparison to the current iPhone’s 4 inch display. It’s become standard practice for mobile phone companies to increase the size and resolution of their screens in each new generation, which made us wonder whether or not there are any truly innovative updates to come. As you may have gathered from the subject of this post – there are!

Pictures of the iPhone 6 – it’s a big one!

Samsung leads the way in the first futuristic update that we’re discussing this month: flexible phones. One of the detriments of having a large display is that the phone takes up more space, making it harder to tuck your phone into your pocket, wallet, or purse. Larger screens are also easier to shatter than the screen of a smaller, more compact phone. In a 2013, Samsung presented a prototype phone with a flexible screen that might be the solution to those problems. It’s the first step toward accomplishing an idea that has been floating around the minds of phone designers for some time.

While Samsung has yet to create a phone that can be folded up like a paper map such as the one in this commercial, this year has seen several new products that indicate that manufacturers are taking steps in the right direction to someday achieve that. In October 2013, Samsung released the Galaxy Round, a phone that curves horizontally across the front rather than lying flat, a clear move toward successfully production of non-traditional screen shapes.  Even more exciting was LG’s January 2014 release of the G Flex, a vertically curved phone that is has a very limited flexibility in its shape: while its display is extremely flexible, its body and interior components are more concrete in form.

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So what’s making these phones a reality after years of discussion?  Mainly, the successful invention of a screen that can be gently bent and twisted without damaging its display, including the recent advances in flexible touch screens. However, the existing bendable screens have a serious limitation: the organic LEDs (OLEDs) that project light and images onto the phone display are very vulnerable to oxygen and water molecules. Any damage to the screen that exposes the OLEDs to the air can destroy the display completely.  Despite this weakness, the current phones represent a huge leap forward in flexible technology.

What else is preventing us from becoming a society that uses fold-able phones on a daily basis? Beyond the fragility of the existent flexible screens, other components necessary for phone operation are still an issue. Batteries, camera lenses, and hard disks all need a stationary space in the phone’s body in order to work. LG has taken a step forward to lead the field in conquering this issue with flexible batteries, but there is still a long way to go before the entire body of your phone can be rolled up and tucked away.

In short: we’re not quite to the level of the technology in 2009’s Star Trek, but we might be on our way there!

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