We stand at a turning point in mobile technology, and we are already taking the first baby step towards a new age of mobile devices. Not only do we have devices like Google Glass and the Galaxy Gear attempting to make wearable computing trendy, but there’s also handsets like the Galaxy Round and G Flex that give us our first taste of mobile devices with flexible displays.
Of course today’s mobile innovations will appear quite primitive compared to the products that tomorrow will bring us. So what exactly can we look forward to seeing in the years to come? While no one can see into the future with any real certainty, we can look to companies like SEL to get a better look at what to possibly expect.
Semiconductor Energy Laboratory – or SEL – is a Japanese based company that has been working to advance a new display technology that has the potential to really change the flexible display game as we know it. Not only can SEL displays flex and bend, but they can also wrap around the sides or top of mobile devices, making for a truly bezel-free experience.
This a significant step up from what we are already seeing from companies like LG and Samsung.
What this means for mobile devices
At last month’s FPD International 2013 trade show, SEL showed off several different prototypes using its advanced CAAC technology.
On the smartphone front they demonstrated a 3.4-inch top-roll 960×543 OLED display, which allowed for notifications and other special alerts to show up on the very top of the smartphone.
Imagine receiving scrolling text notifications on the side of your phone, or even using one of the sides as a screen-based replacement for physical buttons.
An even more intriguing prototype was the company’s 5.4-inch 960×1280 display. Instead of wrapping the display around the top, this design wraps the display around the sides of the phone. This allows us to do away with volume rockers and other side buttons for good.
Instead, imagine receiving scrolling text notifications on the side of your phone, or even using one of the sides as a screen-based replacement for physical volume buttons, launching your camera — and the list goes on.
Beyond the idea of bringing this technology to smartphones, SEL also dreams of advanced wearables with truly bendable displays and batteries. To that end, the company showed off a 3.5-inch prototype watch display that included wireless charging, Bluetooth and even an SEL-made bendable battery.
According to SEL, the bendable battery was tested for durability, and it was determined that a flexible watch could be put on and taken off more than 10,000 times before it would cause any possible damage to the battery.
How does SEL’s display tech work?
While I won’t pretend to fully understand all that goes into making a display, the idea here is that SEL’s display tech is able to achieve a level of flexing that other display technologies currently aren’t capable of thanks to the use of what is called C-Axis Aligned Crystal film.
This special film is less than 100 microns thick and SEL says that bending the material has absolutely no effect on the picture quality of the display prototype. SEL claims that CAAC material is the only type of display technology that can currently display a picture on bent edges.
Because CAAC itself is crystalline instead of amorphous, it has much higher reliability. Until now, with oxide semiconductors, reliability was generally thought to be a problem, but using this material solves that problem.
Aside from being more reliable in terms of bending, CAAC also has the benefit of being difficult to break, because the “crystals are continuously aligned”.
This is all impressive stuff, though obviously it’s all still at the experimental stage. Nonetheless, the big takeaway is that we are now on the verge of a major breakthrough when it comes to both flexible display tech and the future of wearables. Just dreaming about tomorrow’s smart watches, smart clothing and flexible smartphones is enough to make your head explode with anticipation.
So how about it – are you excited about the idea of a future choke-full of flexible smartphones and wearable computing devices? Or do you think that such products will largely be nothing more than gimmicks, at least for the foreseeable future? Let us know what you think in the comments!