Researchers at the Queen's University led by Dr. Roel Vertegaal recently showcased a concept device that attempts to bring the functionality of a tablet into a smaller, cylindrical form factor using flexible display technology. The device is called the MagicScroll and true to its moniker, it kind of resembles a paper scroll except it was built from 3D-printed components. The device is in the early stages of development and is still rather bulky, but the research team believes that the form factor offers a good grip when using the device as a phone in its most compact form, all the while offering the screen real estate of a tablet when the display is folded out. And with a bit of further shrinkage, it could also be carried around in one's pockets.
The MagicScroll is equipped with a scroll wheel on each side, and these input methods are being used primarily when the device is rolled up. The video below demonstrates how the two rotary wheels can scroll through a contact list on the display, similar to a Rolodex filing system but in digital format. Once the user reaches the desired contact, he or she can roll the screen out and view more detailed contact information shown on a tablet-like display, which measures 7.5-inch in diagonal and boasts a 2K resolution. While this type of physical input would certainly provide more tactile feedback compared to swiping gestures performed directly on the touchscreen, it's more likely that the rotary wheels have been implemented as a workaround for the flexible panel's inability to receive touch inputs when it's being rolled up. After all, swiping directly on the screen would not only result in a smaller device overall, as it would render the scroll wheels obsolete but arguably it would also be a more preferred input method for end users who are already familiarized with swiping gestures. Although it's unclear whether this is the main reason for the implementation of the rotary wheels, a lack of response from the rolled-up touchscreen can be seen near the end of the demonstration video below.
The MagicScroll also features a camera that's being used primarily as a gesture-based control device when using the unit in cylindrical form. The researchers describe this input method as being similar to the Nintendo Wiimote. Furthermore, the rotary wheels serve a secondary function in that they are equipped with robotic actuators providing vibration for notifications. All in all, this is an interesting concept but it remains to be seen whether it could fit into the daily lives of tablet and smartphone users. Either way, it's a rare occurrence for concept devices based on flexible displays to be seen outside of patent applications from OEMs like Samsung and LG, so if nothing else, the video below demonstrates at least an interesting piece of engineering.