HP just stumped-up with some news on its cheap, fully-flexible, "unbreakable" screen, which is the sort of display we've been expecting on gadgets for decades, courtesy of many a sci-fi movie. A flexible screen like this allows a radical redesign of product shapes: it's easy to imagine a notebook PC with a simple rod containing all the electronics, which the screen rolls around when not in use. But there's a bigger implication—that our future gadgets will be portable into places where currently they're not taken.
Partly this is due to changes in design facilitated by inventions like the flexible screen, but there are a number of other technology trends that you can add in to this mix such as toughened devices and waterproofing.
Panasonic's Toughbook range of notebook PCs, for example, is designed so that the machines can resist rough treatment that gadgets may receive in outdoors work environments: you don't often see a builder on a construction site wielding a traditional laptop. Similarly, JCB's Tough Phone recently entered the record books as the world's toughest cellphone, able to resist serious knocks, bangs, dust and bad weather. And Olympus and Sanyo have a number of digital cameras that distinguish themselves in the crowded camera market by being drop-proof and moderately waterproof.
Waterproofing itself is a key to enabling technology to go into new locations. Traditionally it's been a question of achieving a good seal to prevent moisture from contacting delicate electrics and electronics, but with products like Golden Shellback entering the scene, it may no-longer be necessary to make products totally sealed. This almost-magical product is a dip-coating for existing devices that covers them in a thin transparent sealant, and allows for devices like MP3 players to operate happily underwater.
And that of course raises the question: would you stay on the call on your cellphone as you step into the shower? Would you take your notebook PC into the bath to finish that vital email?
The penetration of the cellphone into every corner of modern life is almost complete. Almost. Without buying dedicated devices you're unlikely to take the phone absolutely everywhere. And depending on the situation, and the sensitivities of those nearby, the cellphone nuisance factor is an increasingly nasty little modern problem. In fact one UK train company has taken its "Quiet Zone" carriages so seriously that it's coated the train windows with a metal film to create a Faraday cage, rendering the wireless aspect of cellphones useless. For now there's no way to tackle the irritating high-frequency sound leakage from over-loud MP3 player headphones, apart from policing of Quiet Zone policies.
But imagine a world where you could take your ultra-portable notebook/cellphone device skiing, then into the sauna, since it could resist all your slope-bound bumps and bangs, moisture, extreme cold, and extreme heat. And that's only with existing devices...with another five years of product innovation, who knows what "lifestyle" gadgets will be integrated into our daily lives.
Strictly-enforced "No Gadget" zones may become a regular sight in the future, unless our gadget-use sensitivites change quite significantly.