Thin Screens and Flexible Interfaces

Time-to-Adoption: Four to Five Years
Computer displays continue to develop: higher resolution; tiny handhelds and giant wall-size displays; smaller, more compact shells. Flexible screens that can wrap around curved surfaces are in prototype, as are small, thin interactive screens like the Plastic Logic Reader ( If developed fully, integrated interactive display devices like electronic paper would combine input and output in a single interface. Such technologies promise greater portability, ease of use, and economy for educational materials like textbooks and multimedia resources. Manufacturers like Sony, Phillips, and Samsung are experimenting with prototypes of flexible and ultra-thin screens based on organic light-emitting diode (OLED) technology, in which the pixels emit their own light. The screens can be thinner, and embedded in plastic, because no separate light source is required. The technology is being used now to deliver slim television screens, but printing on flexible plastic is still in the very early prototype stage.

Relevance for Teaching, Learning, or Creative Inquiry

Flexible screens and electronic paper could well be paradigm-shifting developments that redefine our view of a computer, but our review of the literature indicates that they are not yet in full production, and the timeline for their entry into the marketplace is unclear. While it is possible to imagine applications for thin screens and the interfaces they would enable, the technology is too young to list concrete examples as yet. This appears to be an enabling category; most of the available information refers to the kinds of devices that will be possible and the ways thin-screen displays could be used, but in and of itself, it has no clear application for teaching and learning at this time. It is a category we will continue to watch with interest, but at this early stage, we could find no examples of how it might affect teaching and learning.

Thin Screens and Flexible Interfaces in Development and Practice

For Further Reading

Research Papers from the MIT Fluid Interfaces Group
(Various Authors, MIT Fluid Interfaces Group, accessed February 24, 2010.) This is a list of current publications that provides a sense of the types of projects in which fluid interfaces could be used.

Flexible, Organic Flash Memory on Tap at the University of Tokyo
(Joseph L. Flatley,, December 16, 2009.) This article briefly discusses this technology and the potential implications it may have.