One of the most exciting things going on in hardware technology right now is flexible displays.  While slightly curved screens have been around for years, such displays were inflexible and far too thick and heavy for optimal use in many situations.  The coming challenge for software companies will be to re-imagine every application requiring display technology and to consider the myriad ways they can take unique advantage of these amazing new displays.

LCD screens, so common in today’s HDTV displays, broke through many display thickness barriers.  The coming wave of flexible displays, however, will produce screens that are even thinner than paper.  This technology represents another giant leap forward.

Virtually every need for a digital display may someday be met by screens capable of being bent, rolled up, or folded and placed in a pocket.  The possibilities for the application of these displays, based on organic light-emitting diode (OLED) and active-matrix OLED (or AMOLED) used in many of the latest mobile phones, are seemingly endless (active-matrix refers to the manner by which pixels are addressed).

It’s a little early, though, to say whether every application of flexible displays will be successful but experimentation will be widespread.  LG’s new curved screen smartphone, the G Flex, has a screen that can bend without breaking.  Among the benefits are the possibilities that the phone fits more naturally into your palm or follows the contour of your face as you’re holding it to your ear and talking.  LG, a leader in the flexible display space, also claims the world’s first curved OLED television screen.

Flexible display technology is not without disadvantages.  It’s costly, as is the case with most new technology.  There are issues related to color balance, mainly related to the short lifespan of blue diodes (longevity is less of an issue with red and green).  Finally, energy consumption and cost are high when certain colors are displayed (Hint:  Black is good, white is bad).  Experts believe that all of these issues will be overcome as the technology matures and the market for them grows.

What I’m really most interested in seeing is how the new flexibility manifests itself in places familiar to travelers — airports, airplanes, hotels, trains, and automobiles.  Imagine video-based displays along the inside, curved ceilings of trains or wrapped around a corner or pole in a terminal instead of taking up large sections of wall space.  Someday, we’ll maybe even see the highest resolution screens ‘unroll’ from the ceiling above on airplanes then roll back up prior to landing.  The reduced weight alone could result in significant fuel cost savings, not to mention lower maintenance costs.