To say that mobile phones have changed a lot over the years would be an understatement.
Flash back to the late 1990s, and there was nothing cooler than showing off your colour-screened flip phone. By the early 2000s, it was all about feature phones with slide-out keyboards like the Sidekick. Then came the iPhone in 2007, which kick-started the modern-day smartphone.
The future of mobile devices, however, is about to stretch a lot further than simply cramming a full-fledged computer into your pocket. If a new prototype gadget from the engineers at Queens University in Toronto is any indication of the future, our phones will eventually be able to bend, twist, and print 3-D objects in an instant.
PaperFold, which was unveiled by Queen’s University professor Roel Vertegaal and student Antonio Gomes earlier this week, is a foldable smartphone prototype. The gadget consists of three flexible monochrome e-paper screens that can be folded out when needed and tucked away when you’re done.
The displays are also detachable, which allows it to take on various different shapes and forms. For example, the demo video from Queens University shows how the phone can shape-shift into a mini laptop or an old-fashioned tri-fold map.
One of the most impressive features showcased in the video was the PaperFold’s ability to print 3-D sculptures. When you fold the three displays into a convex globe while viewing Google Maps, the device will automatically kick into Google Earth mode. From here, you can fold PaperFold into the shape of the building and choose to 3-D-print that structure.
The device is clearly in a rough prototype stage right now, but the demonstration is enough to get us excited about what the final version will look like.
Although major companies like Samsung have been showing off flexible displays for years, the technology hasn’t made it into smartphones or tablets just yet. Samsung, however, revealed during its Analyst day this past November that it could release a completely foldable smartphone in the 2015-2016 time frame.
The main reason foldable devices don’t exist yet is because it’s too difficult to manufacturer internal components that are also flexible, such as batteries and processors. LG is already creating batteries that can bend, but it may be a while before we see that type of technology hit mainstream consumers.
Here’s a look at what PaperFold can do:
You can view a gallery of thumbnail images on one screen while opening a full-screen image on another display.
You can turn your phone into a mini laptop by using one display as a keyboard.
You can fold the display to switch from Google Maps to Google Earth.
Then fold the device into the shape of a particular building to 3-D print it.
You can answer a phone call without having to quit whatever you’re doing on your phone. Simply flip it over to answer the call.