Gadget enthusiasts have been teased with flexible smartphones for many years now and sure enough, display technology has evolved to a point where flexible handsets no longer seem so far in the future. Even LG tapped into this desire for flexible technology with the LG G Flex and G Flex 2, but these devices, although flexible, are more about being resilient rather than bringing more functionality through their flexibility. The good news is that researchers at Queens University’s Human Media Lab have been working on a real flexible smartphone – or rather a prototype – which can actually be controlled via bending gestures.
The smartphone is called ReFlex and as mentioned above, it is currently in the prototype phase of development. Nevertheless, the prototype recently showcased by Human Media Lab on their official YouTube channel looks very promising and seems to work as intended. The device features a 720p flexible OLED screen supplied by none other than LG Display, a battery, a haptic actuator, a board located to the side of the display (non-flexible), a series of “bend sensors” mounted behind the display, and a voice coil able to produce detailed vibrations of the display and simulate friction and other forces. The smartphone runs Android 4.4 Kitkat.
Specifications aside, the end result from the perspective of a user is quite intriguing. When reading an e-book, bending the device on the right-hand side will flip through pages right-to-left while bending the handset on the left-hand side will yield opposite results, as expected. Throughout the bending process, the phone vibrates and sends tactile and audio feedback to the user, which allows for an “accurate physical simulation of interacting with virtual data” as well as “eyes-free navigation”, according to the developers. What’s interesting to note is that the ReFlex works with more than just e-books. The same type of interaction can be achieved in other applications and games like Angry Birds, as demoed in the video published by Human Media Lab. Bending the smartphone leads to stretching the slingshot which sends tactile and audio feedback to the user, while releasing tension will also release the slingshot and send the bird flying through the air.
Dr. Vertegaal of Queen’s University believes that flexible, bendable smartphones will hit the market within the next five years.