Author(s): Peter Bryer
It's been close to 20 years since Nokia introduced the 8110, a slider phone for the European GSM market. The phone, made globally famous thanks to the first Matrix film, curved to follow the shape of the face from ear to mouth, providing optimal placement of the speaker and microphone — or so the marketing logic went. Nokia dared to be a different with the 8110, and added some excitement to the market. Phones no longer had to be flat.
Almost two decades later, curving devices are hipper and hotter than ever. Curved-screen devices are hotly anticipated at CES 2015. From computers to home theatre systems, concave displays are making the rounds with the goal of creating a more immersive and natural viewing experience.
Samsung, for example, has been busy introducing a series of Ultra-HD smart televisions with curved displays, including a model that can bend from flat to concave to provide the user with viewing flexibility. LG introduced a similar family of devices, and Chinese manufacturer Haier introduced several curved-screen 4K televisions including a 105-inch set.
Makers of computer displays are also getting into the curves. HP introduced 27-inch and 34-inch curved screens aimed at enterprise users, and Philips unveiled a 24-inch curved LCD display. Samsung announced the ATIV One 7 Curved, an all-in-one, curved-screen PC with a 27-inch concave HD display that includes an embedded computer running Windows 8.1.
The true advantages of such large, curved screens are being debated among engaged users. Whether the shape becomes a standard among all television and PC makers will be determined by market acceptance in the coming few years. A separate discussion now surrounds the uses of curved screens for smartphones, an early trend with a few examples on the market.
LG just announced the G Flex 2, an Android phone that curves from stern to bow in a similar manner to the banana-shaped Nokia 8110. The Flex 2 also bends slightly, providing a springy robustness in the pocket and on surfaces. The display gives the device distinguishing aesthetics in a homogenised Android market, but other practical advantages may be difficult for potential users to appreciate from a distance.
It's too early to tell if the unique look and feel of the G Flex 2 will be enough to spark change excitement among consumers, but the phone is a flagship device with other breaking features. It's among the first devices to run on Qualcomm's Snapdragon 810 chipset, and has a self-healing back cover to hide scratch marks. The G Flex 2 follows on from LG's original G Flex, introduced in October 2013. Samsung unveiled its own curved phone, the Samsung Galaxy Round G910S, in the same month — the most notable difference being its curve from side to side rather than top to bottom.
The curves enable something different, but will the screens be perceived as anything more than a gimmick? Features like roll effects — that wake up the home screen when the handset is tilted — or the altered viewing angles could be a subtle difference, but the advantages of a virtual keyboard which curves into the hands appears to have struck a chord with some users. The horizontal keyboard in LG's G Flex phones, for example, curves toward the thumbs. For Samsung's Round, the vertical keyboard would curve inwards. Messaging ergonomics could be a saleable feature, with some gamers even having indicated that the curves make for less stressful thumb motions.
LG and Samsung are testing the waters, but other smartphone makers should follow the trend closely. Users and developers could begin to discover some solid advantages of moving beyond flat.