Samsung recently released the curvy Galaxy Round, just days after LG announced that it had started mass production of a curved-screen phone. But for all the fanfare, slightly curved screens are hardly revolutionary (though we love the fact that they’re unbreakable!). Here are five things we’d really like to see in our smartphones and tablets.
Wouldn’t it be great if your mobile devices could talk to each other without the need to fiddle with Bluetooth or Wi-Fi? That’s the promise of the PaperTab, a modular tablet prototype with a flexible e-ink display. You use several PaperTabs at once, each tracking its location compared to the others. Not only do they look and feel like paper, but the tracking means you can transfer documents between PaperTabs by tapping them against each other or placing several side-by-side to merge documents; you can even drag elements from one PaperTab to another.
Who wouldn’t want to silence a ringing phone with just a thought, or launch apps with their brain? Samsung was reported to be experimenting with mind-controlled tablets back in April, but that involved a clunky cap studded with electroencephalography (EEG) sensors. They should team up with someone like InteraXon, a Canadian company that’s already taking pre-orders for their sleek Muse headband. The Muse reads your brainwaves with a set of six EEG sensors and uses Bluetooth to send the data to software that translates it into commands for your phone or tablet.
Nobody likes typing on a touchscreen, but the only other option seems to be using a stylus. Physical keyboards have no place on today’s sleek slabs, so Tactus Technology has come up with an elegant solution. Their Tactile Layer is a morphing keyboard powered by microfluidics. When a keyboard is needed, a controller increases the pressure in the Tactile Layer to make the keys pop up. The keyboard doesn’t use any power to stay up and disappears back in to the screen when you’re done. It’s not just for typing, either – the buttons can be arranged in different configurations, making it great for controlling games.
From Iron Man to Minority Report, transparent displays are a staple of sci-fi these days. Naysayers may decry the practicality of a transparent phone, but it certainly looks cool and you can always tint the screen. Although it was only a very early prototype, the clear slab demoed by the Taiwanese company Polytron Technologies earlier this year certainly whet our appetite! It uses smart glass to switch between opaque and transparent settings. An electric current makes the glass transparent as the crystals in it align; switch the current off and the crystals become randomly arranged, turning the phone opaque.
How about a phone that can roll up into the shape of a controller or fold to hide the password you’re typing in? Morphees, developed by researchers at the Bristol Interaction and Graphics group, are self-actuated shape-shifters. These transforming devices use shape memory alloys and polymers that deform in response to an electrical current, allowing them to change their shape to meet the needs of the moment – just the kind of flexibility a mobile device needs!