Samsung unveiled Galaxy Round, a phone with a curved screen. The company is calling it world’s first phone with a curved screen, which sounds impressive. But the Korean firm neither provided details on how the curved screen would meaningfully help users nor explained what its customers in future can expect from phones that are not flat.
The reality is that even though the concept of curved screens sounds impressive, it is not likely to alter the user experience for smartphone users in any significant way.
One thing that most people have missed in the hype is that a curved screen doesn’t mean a flexible screen. The screen in Galaxy Round may have subtle curve, it is still made of tough glass, which means it will not be bendable or absorb shock to survive falls.
The curved glass screen will probably not enable new form factors for smart devices unless companies find a way to create curved batteries and flexible or curved printed circuit boards.
Samsung has highlighted the user interface changes that curved screen has enabled. On Wednesday Pranav Mistry, who heads Think Tank Team and research division at Samsung, tweeted that the Galaxy Round “brings roll effect, gravity effect and new bounce UX (user experience) in addition to an amazingly snug grip, thanks to that curved form.”
The roll effect is the slight movement that the curved backcover on the Galaxy Round enables. This means when this phone is kept on table, you can give the side of device a gentle push to roll it towards you. The device will register the movement and display the lockscreen, along with any notification you may have.
This is in no way an improvement over the way current generation of smartphones can display notifications. For example, on LG G2 you can double tap the screen when it is kept on a table to see the notifications. Even on Galaxy phones, all you have to do is press the home button for the same action. You don’t have to pick up the phone to wake up the screen.
The gravity effect allows users to move from home screen to home screen with gestures. The bounce effect can control apps like music player to skip to next or previous song with a simple nudge to the left or the right side of the device, even when the screen is locked.
These are not some unique features enabled by the curved glass. These features rely on gyroscope and can be implemented in smartphones with flat glass screen.
The Galaxy Round is not the next big thing. It is a proof of concept device created to give Samsung bragging right that it was first to market with a smartphone that had curved display. Technically, even this claim is not correct. The first smartphone with the curved glass was Nexus S, which had a very subtle horizontal curve on its screen. Though it was also made by Samsung so the company can claim it was first to the market with a curved smartphone.
Flexible displays could be the next big thing Curved screens can have some unique uses but so far smartphone or technology companies have failed to demonstrate them. One use of a curved screen can be to create a smartwatch that fits the wrist ergonomically. For example this concept image of an Apple Watch created by Esben Oxholm shows how the device could be created using a curved glass screen.
Image credit: Esben Oxholm
Unfortunately, the problem with smart and thin devices that have curved displays is that other components still have the flat shape. Just hours after Samsung unveiled LG announced that it had started producing flexible batteries. While this will undoubtedly help, engineers and designers will have to come up with imaginative ways to use these technologies in meaningful manner before they can provide an improvement over the current devices. Flexible displays are more promising. Both Samsung and LG have shown samples of high-resolution flexible displays.
Samsung even created a fully-working smartphone with flexible display and showed it during Consumer Electronic Show earlier in January. This smartphone had the display gracefully melding into the back cover. At that time Samsung did specify how it could use the extra display space in the prototype but suggested that the sides of the device could be used as notification centre. So far, we have yet to see any such display in an actual device.
But even in the case of flexible displays, the actual benefits are yet to be demonstrated. In the concepts and artworks by several companies, including Samsung, magazine like devices that can rolled or folded have been shown. But that kind of future so far only exist in labs and artistic