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This flexible tablet prototype is nuts but just scroll with it, OK?

Researchers from Queen’s University in Ontario have created a unique scroll-like, tablet-like, smart device, and we haven't seen anything like it.

Published onSeptember 17, 2018

A scroll-like tablet prototype named MagicScroll
  • Researchers from Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada have invented a scroll-like smart device.
  • The MagicScroll works both when rolled up like a paper scroll, and when its 7.5-inch display is rolled out.
  • The device is a prototype and there are no guarantees any such product will reach commercialization.

Researchers from Queen’s University in Ontario have devised a prototype folding display device similar to a parchment scroll. The MagicScroll, shown off earlier this month at the MobileHCI 2018 conference in Barcelona (via DisplayDaily), can operate while as a cylinder and in an unrolled format like a tablet.

As it’s a prototype, the Queen’s University researchers have only shown off a few use cases so far, including scrolling through a LinkedIn page using the magnetic rotary encoders on the ends of the cylinder. The display can then be unfurled to display more information, an action seemingly similar to how smartphones reposition content when switching from landscape or portrait. The MagicScroll also allows users to access apps, as well as make calls.

The device includes a 7.5-inch, flexible, 2160 x 1920, OLED display with multitouch (which is actually two 5.5-inch LG G Flex 2 displays spliced together), and a 3D-printed cylindrical body. Inside the chamber are two Android circuit boards (running Android 5.1 Lollipop), three lithium-ion batteries (two of which come at 600mAh and are for the system, and one 300mAh battery for the actuated wheels on either side of the scroll), and other components typical of smartphones and tablets.

The research team have created a brief video to show off how the MagicScroll works which you can view below.

Is the MagicScroll the future?

As a demonstration of the potential of flexible displays, the MagicScroll is fine; it can be used in a more compact view (when rolled up) or as a large-screen device like a traditional tablet. I don’t see the idea being taken much further than this, however…

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The notion of rolling up a tablet to save space is a good one, but adding wheels to the side primarily for scrolling isn’t worthwhile. Scrolling feels intuitive with a finger, and folks want less bulk on the sides of their devices, not more.

A scroll-like tablet prototype named MagicScroll

Operating a touchscreen cylinder, like in the making calls demonstration, also seems impractical. While I believe there is still some work to be done with smartphone call interfaces — I sometimes fumble for the number pad when asked to press a key during an automated call — providing a smaller space on a rolled display probably isn’t the solution. Offering clear access to all the numbers, as well as the call and cancel buttons, is likely the best approach in this regard, and smartphones reached a peak there years ago.

It looks like a dead-end to me, but you can hit me up in the comments with your thoughts on the device below. For more information on the MagicScroll, check out the PDF here.

Up next: What we know so far about Samsung’s foldable phone

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