Researchers at the Human Media Lab at Queens University have been spending the past several years looking at new ways that we might interact with next-generation displays.
I have long been a fan of the HML, so I was thrilled to learn earlier this week that they have revealed a new concept for a radical smartphone design. It's called the Morephone, and it turns the idea of smartphones notifications on its head.
The Morephone is not your average smartphone. Instead of an LCD or OLED screen it uses a thin, flexible EPD screen manufactured by Plastic Logic. This is a screen similar to the ones used by the HML in past projects like the the Papertab (here, here) and the Paperphone, only the Morephone uses the flexible screen as a signal instead of an input method. This concept design uses actuators to bend part of the screen so it acts as a visual signal for incoming notifications.
For example, the unit that is being used for demos is set to fold one corner up when there's an incoming text message. It can also bend the entire screen when there's an incoming call:
According to Roel Vertegaal, director of the Human Media Lab, the idea embodied the Morephone was inspired by the common problem of missed notifications. "Users are familiar with hearing their phone ring or feeling it vibrate in silent mode. One of the problems with current silent forms of notification is that users often miss notifications when not holding their phone," he said. "With MorePhone, they can leave their smartphone on the table and observe visual shape changes when someone is trying to contact them."
That's an interesting idea, but it might only substitute one type of missed notification for another. At the moment it's possible for smartphone users to miss the buzz of a notification because the phone isn't in their hand. With the Morephone, the user might instead miss seeing the screen fold in half because the Morephone isn't in view.
That's why I'm not sure that this really solves any problems. Even though it does look cool in practice, I bet that it's more likely that we'll see a notifications be integrated into heads up displays like Google Glass, or some other piece of gadgetry that will be permanently attached (watch, ring, pendant). That's a natural progression from the current support for Bluetooth headsets, don't you think?