Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Phones Getting Too Big To Fit In Pocket? Fold it!

This is my first hardware-related conceptualizing blog post. All my other posts have centered around intangible tech - software, operating systems, ad tech, trends and ecosystems. So when my niece shared this video with me and said "You've gotta write something about this on your blog!" with exuberance and marvel for this wonderful innovation, I caved in (Thanks Nits).

After watching the video, the first word that comes to mind is convergence. Yup I had to use the 'C' word.  I just love that word.  I've used it in a trigger happy way in all my posts and when analyzing or describing a certain tech trend. Yeah its over-used but in this case, no other word came to mind without me grabbing my smartphone and hopping on to Yea yea, I know there's an app for that. If you think 'convergence' is commonplace wait till you know about the second word that came to mind...disruption! I warned you.

Allow me to explain my two very carefully chosen words for the flexible screen innovation. As I mentioned, I used 'convergence' to describe mobile operating systems and the ecosystem OS developers are creating to converge the OS experience across multiple device categories. The convergence from this flexible screen innovation perspective is a physical one as opposed to a virtual one in the case of operating systems. The convergence in this case is of the likes of how the PC converged computing and media / entertainment. This video of Steve Jobs is great viewing to add some flavor to the concept of convergence.  The video is from 1998, which shows the concept isn't new.  The video quality is not great but his golden words are crystal clear.

The flexible screen innovation, similarly, has the ability to converge multiple device categories into one device category or an entire new category. In a nutshell, your smartphone will be your tablet as well. It will have the ability to morph into one or the other at your will. You won't need to settle on one screen size when purchasing your new smartphone. The new flexible screen computing device will be able to increase or decrease its screen size in a couple of ways. You may be able to fold / unfold it to go from a phone to a tablet or vice verse. You may be able to role it out, in which case, the device screen will only be able to increase its length (these methods are apparent in the video). Developers will need to figure out how apps will need to be altered to fit into changing screen ratios, especially with the case of fold-able screens.

Disruption. Well whenever two things converge, one is eliminated. So take your pick. Will the flex-screen disrupt the tablet category or the phone category? Which industry did the convergence of the PC disrupt? TVs are still around and much so as the entertainment hub of our lives. But the PC did disrupt the entertainment industry in a sense. When was the last time you bought a music album on a CD?  In fact the PC was responsible for disrupting several non-digital channels for music, videos, mail, documentation, archiving, storage, etc. Note that we sometimes use the word 'disruption' loosely. It may not be in the exact context that Mr. Christensen described. Clayton's description of disruption was this: When a lower-priced, lower-quality technology starts to gain market-share from the incumbent as the weaker technology increases in quality, finally matching the incumbent's quality. In the case of the flex-screen, the technology may not be an inexpensive alternative to the standard due to its new-ness in the market. However, since it has the ability to converge at least two devices, it will make it cheaper for the people who are in the market for a smartphone and a tablet.  In terms of quality, the flex screen may or may not be able to match the resolutions of the 'Retinas' or the 'Super AMOLEDs' due to initial restrictions in material science. So the 'Disruptive Innovation' concept may be applicable in this case.

I am not saying the first iteration of the flex-screen will perfectly converge and disrupt as I've mentioned above.  The new innovation must go through the curve in order to improve up to the point of delivering a matched or increased consumer experience of the devices that it will eventually affect. In fact the first iteration of the flex-screen may simply be to make your device screen unbreakable.  It will have enough 'flex' to absorb the shock of a drop but may not have the ability to fold or role to morph into a completely different screen size. Subsequent micro-innovations in material science and software engineering will eventually be able to deliver the near-perfect device concept as described above.  For now stay happy with your 3.5 / 4 inch iPhone or your 3.5 / 4.x / 5.x inch android mobile device.

In the next episode of screen disruption, we will talk about what will disrupt the flex-screen: virtual / holographic screens that will project the 'screen' out of your mobile device on to thin air... I am kidding...but it will happen.

Word count:
Convergence / converge - 12

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