From cell phones to television sets, “curved” is the new flat. At least that’s the big buzzword that’s trending in the upper echelons of the electronics industry and amongst the consumer world’s earliest adopters. While this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas served as a showcase for what a curved future could look like, the origins of the newly-emerging technology actually date back four decades.
It all began back in 1974, when Xerox PARC researcher Nicholas K. Sheridon answered the call for a more flexible display device with Gyricon, the world’s first electronic paper display. Perhaps most simply described as an electronic Etch A Sketch, Sheridon envisioned the product as a key step toward the introduction of a “paperless” office. (Talk about forward-thinking!)
Though it would take a few decades for Sheridon’s paperless vision to catch on, his 40-year-old technology remains at the heart of today’s curve-loving trend. Why curved? Well, a couple of reasons.
If you’ve ever seen an IMAX movie, you’ve probably noticed that a slightly bowed screen is usually part of the setup. In the cinematic world, this helps the screen to better surround the audience, ensuring that every seat in the house offers an optimal viewing experience. Though projection isn’t an issue when it comes to consumer products like smartphones, tablet devices, and televisions, the general effect of how a curved display device improves the viewing experience is the same. Most notably, it maximizes visibility by correcting any image distortions (particularly with big-screen displays), cutting down on reflections, and even improving sound quality.
At the forefront of the most recent curved technology charge are Samsung and LG.
Samsung made their interest in pursuing flexible technologies known back in 2010, when they announced that they were actively developing an AMOLED (a.k.a. active-matrix organic light-emitting diode) display for mobile devices. Though they introduced the prototype at the 2011 CES, it wasn’t until Oct. 10, 2013 that the company’s vision became a consumer reality, with the introduction of the Samsung Galaxy Round—the world’s first curved smartphone—in South Korea.
With its 5.7-inch touchscreen display and curved shape, the phone may not fit as snugly in your pocket as its flat-screen brethren, but it offers a drop in reflectance, which in turn improves your battery life. In other words: the longer it will take to run out of juice. The real question is whether that’s worth $1,000 to you (which is the asking price for the model).
Not to be outdone is LG. At CES 2013, both companies introduced “the world’s first” curved OLED TV. No, it was not a collaboration. Each company unveiled its very own 55-inch curved display television within hours of each other. Both claiming to be the world’s first. Though reviews were mixed over which company was offering the better product—Samsung’s version offered a larger viewing sweet spot while LG’s set was 3-D capable—LG was actually taking orders for its 55EM9700 model at the show (for the low, low price of $12,000) while Samsung promised its model would be ready for delivery in the second half of the year.
The curved innovations kept coming at the most recent CES, which concluded in Las Vegas on Jan. 10. Samsung unveiled the world’s first and largest curved Ultra High Definition (UHD) television, which measures a whopping 105 inches, with the company’s Head of TV and AV, Guy Kinnell, promising that, “The combination of our curved design and UHD picture quality creates the ultimate immersive entertainment experience for people passionate about entertainment.” Though its price point has yet to be set, start saving your pennies (nickels, dimes, and dollars) for its release in the latter half of the year.
Of course, LG had its own lineup curved products to show off, including the 77-inch 77EC9800 model, the world’s largest UHD curved OLED TV (yes, that’s a lot of acronyms), with senior vice president In-kyu Lee noting that, “All of the exceptional OLED models we’re showcasing at CES 2014 offer the ultimate in picture quality and refined, modern aesthetics.” Less than two weeks after CES, the company announced that it would be rolling out G Flex, the world’s first smartphone designed to follow the curve of one’s face, in key European markets. (The phone is already in some U.S. markets.)
But what would a technology showdown be without Apple getting into the mix? Despite the fact that its competitors have already come to the market with curved products, on Dec. 10, the Silicon Valley behemoth was awarded a patent (8,603,574) for a “method of forming a curved touch surface” that could potentially be used for any of their products—phones, tablets and monitors included. Though the company has yet to announce a curved device, the patent speaks volumes about the viability of the concept.
No word yet on whether the next iPad will be a curvy one.