Is Waveface the future of screens?

Waveface-Light (Asus)With all the hype about 3D television, bendable OLED was not on the list of top CES breakthroughs from most reporters. In fact, the display wasn’t even in the main hall; instead it was tucked away, in just a corner of the Asus booth. “Waveface” is a few years off from hitting the consumer market, but the implications have the retailer in me excited, my eyes filled with the potential communications applications.

What are OLED screens? Micro thin, seamless, smooth, high definition video screens capable of bending around objects. To me it’s the coolest display at CES this year. Imagine a wrist watch where the band, the display, the case – everything – was a seamless video bracelet that wraps around your wrist. Sports scores, weather information, photos of your kids, all moving across the band in one continuous circle of light. Oh and probably the time as well.

It could also function as a portable phone that’s just a couple of quarters thick, but which can fold out to double the size of the viewing area, with no hinges or seams. Bendable screen technology could allow automobile cockpit displays which conform to the contours of the dash, presenting a seamless, door-to-door information panorama.

And if you want to get really crazy, imagine clothing that isn’t cloth, but a continuous OLED screen capable of shifting dress colors on a whim – even shifting them continuously, like a wearable rave party. See the demo here. These new low-battery, high resolution OLED screens have just begun to enter the marketplace, but the potential application of ultra-thin, bendable communication screens has my imagination going overdrive, especially when it comes to retail packaging.

Imagine medicine bottles wrapped in OLED screens, able to display physician’s instructions, health and dietary warnings, and more. Imagine grocery messaging which cycle between sale price, nutrition information and recipe ideas, all in high resolution HD goodness. Or DVD packages which display snippets of the movie right on the cover of the package.

Documents like passports, instruction manuals, and especially maps will one day be made from OLED screens, able to display Internet data streams on demand, yet able to roll or fold up when not needed. Complicated assembly instructions printed with hard to read illustrations will finally disappear, replaced by video based instruction and even sound. The thinner the OLED screen, the better as the screen membrane can actually be used like a speaker cone, made to vibrate at frequency. Your TV screen will also be your speaker system.

So when will we see this? The Asus display this year was probably more mock-up than prototype; Samsung and Sony have previously shown bendable OLED screens, though no actual products yet. Several manufacturer’s are promising CE products using this technology will hit Japanese retail shelves later in 2010, but expect high price points designed only for the early adopters. The broader applications of this new technology are still years away, but the retail, packaging, and marketing implications are profound.