Thinking Tech

Nokia toys with flexible smartphones you can bend and twist [video]

Nokia toys with flexible smartphones you can bend and twist [video]

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The Finnish company showcased an innovative handheld "kinetic device" with a flexible display.

Cell phones have come a long way since they were nothing more than giant metallic bricks with an antenna sticking out. They've since evolved into ultra-thin, touchscreen devices with a powerful computer crammed inside. So then what's next for these bright, shiny objects that have made man and device inseparable?

CNET blogger Stephen Shankland got a possible glimpse of the near-future at the Nokia World show in London where the Finnish company was showing off an innovative handheld "kinetic device" with a flexible display. A company representative was on hand to demonstrate how the interface could be operated simply by bending, twisting and just plain contorting the thing in every way imaginable. For instance, flexing it inward or outward lets the user zoom in and out on photos similarly to pinch gestures.

Not much was disclosed about how the hardware worked, but Shankland found a local expert who provided a potential explanation:

Tapani Jokinen, who began working on the technology about two years ago as part of a Nokia group tasked with creating designs out of earlier-stage research, wouldn't say either when he thinks it'll come to market or how it worked.

But Chris Bower, stationed nearby at Nokia's "Future Lounge," had some ideas. He was showing an experimental apparatus with a bundle of carbon nanotubes in a flexible elastomer medium. The electrical resistance of the nanotubes changes as they're stretched, and measurements of the change let a computer control how a map zoomed in and out. The same approach could be used to control the flexible interface.

News about the device was somewhat overshadowed yesterday by Nokia's introduction of a new line of Windows 7 Smartphones. The company also wanted to make it clear that the technology was still in prototype stage and so it'll be a little while before it can be integrated into any future products. And there's still that big hurdle of why anyone would want this kind of capability when they can just use touch screen gestures.

The use of flexing gestures, however, might come in handy in common everyday circumstances such as listening and skipping through songs without having to take it out of your pocket. Other ideal situations include scrolling while walking or operating the device with gloves on during the winter.

Who knows if any of these potential advantages would be enough of a reason to justify any additional cost to implement the technology. But then again, it wasn't so long ago that people were thought to be too self-conscious to tell their phones what to do. SIRI-ously right?

(via CNET)

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Tuan Nguyen

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Tuan C. Nguyen is a freelance science journalist based in New York City. He has written for the U.S. News and World Report, Fox News, MSNBC, ABC News, AOL, Yahoo! News and LiveScience. Formerly, he was reporter and producer for the technology section of ABCNews.com. He holds degrees from the University of California Los Angeles and the City University of New York's Graduate School of Journalism. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure