Philips Rolls Out Flexible Display Protoypes
By Eric Lin, Wed Jan 28 23:15:00 GMT 2004

Philips Research subsidiary Polymer Vision has unveiled a thin flexible display technology that could change the face (and shape) of mobile devices.

Seen in Mobile Pipeline, the Polymer Vision display is a 5" QVGA (320 x 240) greyscale unit composed of TFTs on polymer instead of glass. But instead of using traditional LCD technology, the display uses eInk, a system comprised of half black / half white capsules that uses a minimal amount of charge to change the capsule's orientation. Not only does this reduce energy used for display refreshes, but it also means that a display can hold a pattern with barely any energy consumption.

Not only does the screen break new boundaries in terms of energy consumption, it also defies convention by being utterly flexible, to the point where it can roll with a radius as small as 2 cm. Gizmodo found a video of the screen rolling up. Screens could be stored rolled up and then unfurled for use, greatly changing the amount of pocket space needed to store a (non touch screen) PDA or other mobile device. Philips points out this would be highly desirable for GPS units and other mapping devices- with possible military applications. As most current PDA interfaces rely on touch screens, it may be a while before interface developments or technology advancements would make this new display feasible for smart mobile devices.

Considering the impact flexible, low-power screen technology could have on devices, it's easy to get swept away dreaming up new form factors for all sorts of gadgets (especially for ex Earth: Final Conflict addicts like me). Polymer Vision sounds like it could be good for GPS and a few other paper-replacement applications. Certainly screens like this are an excellent solution for viewing print-friendly information: maps, text documents, web pages, etc. However most new mobile applications are focused on video and gaming- neither of which would look good, or work well on a greyscale screen. (Remember the days of the "creamed spinach" Gameboys?) Until the technology becomes more advanced, adding full color and fast refresh rates, it looks like wireless devices using these flexible displays will be relegated to science fiction.