Back when the iPhone 6 and 6 plus were released rumours started flying that the phones were pretty flexible and could actually bend. But then it turned out, oh, no, actually they don’t. They really, definitely don’t. Well, now it looks like we could be seeing phones that actually do and they’re not far from being viably commercially available.
Developed by Queen’s University’s Human Media Lab, ReFlex is a full-colour, high-resolution and wireless flexible smartphone that combines multitouch with bend input to allow users to use standard touchscreen interaction as well as experience physical tactile feedback when interacting with certain apps through bending the screen. It’s technology designed to supplement traditional touch interaction rather than replace it.
The phone was created using a flexible OLED screen from LG in combination with bend sensors, voice coil, and Android KitKat in the non-flexible part of the display. The bend sensors are placed behind the display in order to identify the force with which the user is bending the screen whilst the voice coil allows the phone to use detailed vibration feedback in order to simulate the feeling of interacting with a physical object.
The team use the examples of flicking through a comic book and playing a game of Angry Birds to show the kinds of things the tech could enable. When reading a book on the phone, bending the screen more would allow you to flick through the pages of the book faster or slower whilst the haptic feedback would allow you to, in essence, feel the pages flicking over your fingers. When playing Angry Birds, bending the screen would stretch the sling shot with delicate vibrations simulating the sensation of stretching a rubber band and when you release the band it would send a snapping vibration through the phone.
The director of the Human Media Lab, Dr. Vertegaal, thinks smartphones like this could be in the hands of consumers within five years and considering ReFlex has been built using off-the-shelf parts this isn’t exactly a radical claim to make. Whether or not we’ll actually ever get our hands on a phone like this, though, is up to the manufacturing giants. Personally, I’m still holding out for those foldable devices Samsung were rumoured to be working on. Partly because they look so useful, and partly because I’m not sure I’m the kind of person that could be trusted to not see just how far the bendable phone is able to go.