I’m talking to Frog’s Chief Creative Officer, Mark Rolston, about the iWatch. He’s riffing on the future of wearable technology and user interface, and there’s plenty of heady philosophy flying on the untapped potential of calendars, and the clash of unitary app models with HUDs. His opinions are mostly conditional, reasonably hedged and all-around sensible. He’s exploring possibilities rather than prognosticating the future. And then he says something that shocks me with its straightforwardness:
Curved displays will drive the next five years of landmark inventions.
For a moment I’m skeptical. But hearing him out, the argument makes a lot of sense.
As of today, every display is a sharp rectangle squeezing its way into a round world. Whereas we’ve designed furniture, game controllers, and even low-fi handheld objects (like mugs and beer bottles) to accommodate our fleshy selves, screens are stubborn. Look at your average car dashboard. It’s rounded like some futuristic alien spacecraft, save for the 8-inch rectangle crammed into an otherwise organic form like a gauge in someone’s ear.
"Curved LCDs [and OLEDs] give us the opportunity to put a computing service not just on our bodies, but on furniture and more household objects," Rolston says. "Anything with shape—which most of the world has."
In the era of the curved screen, every single object you know and love has the potential to be reborn without losing its ergonomics. Of course, building a television into your couch might just sound silly, but the fact that it could even be considered demonstrates just how up-in-the-air the world becomes when our most popular digital interface gets a rounded makeover.
It makes you realize that the flexible-screened iWatches of the future have the potential to do so much more than current wearables like the Pebble, a sad rectangle tied to a strap by comparison. Curved screens will have the appeal of color TV and the information accessibility of the Internet. In the right few contexts, they’ll have that time-defining "it" factor that so few technologies do. Once we see (and feel) curved screens, everything else will seem antiquated.
As screens are reshaped, so will our experience of information. Rolston likens our tiny screens to "discrete pods of data," whereas curved displays will break many of the natural barriers imposed by bezels. Imagine a recipe that doesn’t just appear on your wall or countertop, but can actually follow you around your kitchen, snaking its way into the nooks around faucets and refrigerator handles and presenting the pertinent information right where you need it (how many cups of water was that again? What should I be grabbing from the fridge?).
"Use this to creep you out: A moldable screen will allow us to have things like toys with faces," Rolston says. "Imagine a Barbie doll that talks to her owner, and makes naturalistic blinking and lip movement behind the static surface.
"I guarantee you that children born today will have a toy in their lifetime with a curved screen."
Children born today—you could argue that means we’re talking about a shift that’s within the next decade, but truth be told, Rolston sees it coming much sooner. No doubt, the trend may erupt with Apple’s rumored iWatch. So just as Apple sold us on the last half-decade of innovation through the iPhone’s multitouch, they could be in a position to sell us on the next half-decade of innovation via curved displays.
"Let’s say five years from now, call me back up and we’ll talk about the crazy two or three things that have taken the world by storm because of this technology," he adds, as we finish our conversation.
Mr. Rolston, we have a date.