Where Are Displays & Interfaces Going?
Will touch screens become obsolete? What’s so great about haptics? When is the right time to improve your display interface? Read on to hear the answers.
When it comes to displays and interfaces of the future, the adage “Out with the old, in with the new” could not be more accurate. Designers are supplying new technologies practically faster than consumer and commercial markets can keep up with them. But that doesn’t mean that these innovations won’t eventually have their days in the sun: As the needs of OEMs and consumers progress, many technologies currently on the back-burner are poised to become trends of the future.
What Do Consumers Want?
When it comes to what people want out of their device displays in their homes and personal appliances, flexible displays are next in line, says Eric Hawkins, engineering manager at Focus LCD
“One of the newest display technologies is flexible displays; they can be as thin as one millimeter and are flexible,” says Hawkins. “The tooling cost and unit cost are very prohibitive at this time, but could become mainstream in the next three to five years.”
Flexible displays are just what they sound like: displays that are flexible in nature; differing from the more widespread flat-screen displays used in most current electronics devices. Recently, interest has grown from numerous consumer electronics manufacturers to use this technology in devices including e-readers, mobile phones and other consumer electronics.
4K resolution displays are also becoming more common for applications such as desktop computing, and eventually a television too, says JD Albert, director of engineering at Bressler Group. (4K resolution is a term for display appliances or content that has horizontal resolution of 4,000 pixels.) According to Albert, “Higher performance backplanes are delivering better speed, brightness, and higher resolution.”
Another technology that consumers seem ready to grab is haptic feedback, according to Chris Ullrich, vice president, user experience at Immersion Corp. “Haptic feedback has been widely adopted in mobile devices, and is in production automobiles,” Ullrich notes. “In the near term, we see additional industries – such as wearable electronics, personal health devices and appliances – adopting haptics to increase user confidence.”
Ullrich also mentions floating-screen technologies as an up-and-coming consumer technology. “They are already widely deployed in auto and other industrial touch-screen markets,” Ullrich says. “These technologies use a novel mechanical suspension for the touch screen to enable strong and localized haptic feedback.”
On the Forefront
Speaking of haptics (or tactile technology that gives the user physical-feedback) designers are having as much fun incorporating them into the prototyping process as consumers are having utilizing them in finished products. Ullrich considers them to be on the forefront in leading display technology innovation.
“Adding tactile feedback to high-quality displays is a way to make the user experience more robust,” Ullrich explains. “We expect to see similar haptic feedback adopted into high-quality appliances soon.”
Haptic feedback on touch screens and touch controls has been growing in popularity in mobile devices and even in the automotive space, Ullrich says. “Many designers like the idea of bringing back the tactile aspect of controls that has been lost in many early touch interfaces,” he notes. “A number of human factor studies have shown haptics can improve user confidence and that haptics, in conjunction with other feedback modes (visual, audible), can result in the most robust user interfaces.”
When designing with haptics in mind, one must remember that the quality and usefulness of feedback on appliances or other similar devices is most affected by the latency of the feedback (visual, auditory and haptic). “Device designers must provide sufficiently powerful processors to provide touch screen feedback in less than 80-100 milliseconds to users or else they will be confused by the feedback,” says Ullrich. “The inability to provide timely feedback is one of the key sources of frustration, fatigue and user dissatisfaction with touch screen interfaces and must be carefully considered during design and product development.”
Ullrich also mentions that mobile phones, tablets, automobiles and printers (such as Hewlett Packard’s line of haptic touchscreen printers) are becoming particularly high-end examples of the newest devices on the market. “Phones and tablets have led the curve in terms of squeezing the highest pixel densities into small displays,” he says.
This sentiment is echoed by Albert. “Wearables, tablets, and mobile devices are high-volume products with strict requirements for usability, image fidelity, low power consumption, and ultra compact profiles,” he explains.
Hawkins says that bi-stable displays are also another area to watch. “A bi-stable (cholesteric) display does not require power to be read, but only when the display changes,” he explains. “These are very popular on products that are battery driven or where the display is on 24/7. Amazon Kindle is one such product that already uses bi-stable technology.”
Although the cost is currently prohibitive for many cost driven applications, it is dropping. Bi-stable displays are also being researched to be made into color versions—they are only available in monochrome at this time
When Should One Step Up A Display?
Hawkins says that a primary reason why OEMs upgrade to enhanced displays is to change from a monochrome (single color) display to a multicolor display such as a Thin- Film Transistor (TFT) or an Organic Light-emitting Diode (OLED) type.
“Some manufactures will build two different versions of the same product: An entry level, low cost version with a monochrome display and a more expensive and higher-end model with a color display,” he says.
It is important to keep in mind the potential longevity of the color display when designing, Hawkins warns. While one may initially find certain color displays at a low cost because the display is manufactured in very high volume to meet the demand of a specific tablet or cell phone, once that product is discontinued, the display will become difficult to locate and one’s cost will increase.
“A better option is to select display sizes that have been in use for several years and make sure the display is used in a wide variety of products and industries,” says Hawkins. “Ask your LCD supplier if this display will continue in mass production.”
Will Touch Screens Be Phased Out Someday?
The verdict to this question is still out, with a variance of opinion from experts in the field. Ullrich feels that one day, touch screens will become a thing of the past.
“As the Internet of Things becomes standardized, it is reasonable to expect that the more expressive and powerful interface of a tablet or smartphone will replace most appliances,” he says. “This will enable new kinds of products and services that leverage the knowledge of appliance state and usage patterns across device ecosystems in homes and offices.”
Hawkins feels differently, saying that the touch screen is likely here to stay. “Consumers will need some method to monitor their products,” he explains. “There are some products, mainly in the medical industry, that interface with a tablet or cell phone and eliminate the need for the display, but this approach has not proven to be popular.”
According to Albert, the answer to the question of touch screen’s possible obsoleteness all depends on how you look at it. “It’s more a question of integration: the display will become one with the rest of the device or product,” he says. “Displays have a huge amount of highly advanced manufacturing that is best done in large, clean factories. As that is not likely to change, displays will at a fundamental level continue to be a specialized component, but there are good efforts to integrate touch and the outer surface of the product into the display component.”