We are in an age where smartphones are complimenting us with the same features and services that a home computer can offer. The market is already abuzz with the advent of the complete new series of curved screen TVs and smartphones. The question is will they go the distance? Research shows that smartphones and TVs with curved screens make our brains light up.
A spate of gadgets sporting concave displays has already been launched, and the big manufacturers will soon be hurling yet more TVs and smartphones with curved screens on to the shelves. Rumours continue to swirl that even Apple’s forthcoming iPhone 6 will bend to the craze later this year.
There’s more to the trend than just a novel shape, though. It may be tapping into a deep-seated desire to get away from the hard corners and rectangles that have defined our appliances for decades. The craze for curves is also fueling a search for materials and manufacturing techniques that will help companies exploit it to the full.
“The first adjective used by people to describe curves is ‘soft’,” says Oshin Vartanian, a neuroscientist at the University of Toronto, Canada. “The story about curvature is a real story about emotion in the brain.” Vartanian and colleagues espouse the fledgling field of neuroaesthetics – understanding the neurological basis for our appreciation of beauty. Last year, he used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to test people’s reactions to pictures of household interiors, asking them to rate rooms as “beautiful” or “not beautiful”.
A large majority favoured rooms with curved features and furnishings over ones packed with straight lines. The scans revealed that curved contours tended to stimulate the pleasure centres of the brain, whereas angles activated circuits in areas that detect threats.
The findings reinforce a similar study conducted in 2010 at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland, where visitors were shown objects with straight or curved outlines. Here, too, fMRI showed they had a preference for curves. But electronics has been trapped within a straight paradigm for decades, mostly because of limitations in our manufacturing know-how.
That’s changing. Samsung’s Galaxy Round smartphone, released in South Korea last October, uses a bendable version of Corning’s Gorilla Glass called Willow. Corning has since announced an upgraded version, its 3D Gorilla Glass, which it says can bend up to 75 degrees without breaking. And in an industry where even a small advantage in a product’s looks can translate into billions in extra revenue, some manufacturers are turning to sheets of artificially grown sapphire for their next-generation screens.
Companies selling curved screens say they offer tangible benefits. The concave shape reflects less light at the viewer, allowing screens to be dimmer and thus extending battery life. Adding a curve to a widescreen TV enhances a screen’s central sweet spot, giving the viewer the illusion of being immersed in the action. Not everyone finds curviness a big deal. “It’s distinct and different and unique. It does create a ‘wow’ factor,” says Paul Gray of industry analysts NPD DisplaySearch. “But the reasons for curvature beyond the styling seem to be extremely tenuous.”
Some industry-watchers believe the fascination will prove to be a fad, but curved screens remain a fast- growing market. Gray’s firm projects that global curved TV shipments will grow from 800,000 units this year to more than six million by 2017 – proof that we like what we see.
In a couple of years from now, we may be in a position to really determine how deeply this mind-bending technology of curved screens can penetrate the average consumer home.
- Peter Nowak, New Science Magazine