Are flexible smartphones possible?

15 November 2016



Is it possible to build a flexible smartphone with the technology we have today?


Chris Smith put this question to tech investor Peter Cowley...

Peter - Yes, there's quite a lot of press in that direction. But first of all my first thought when I saw this question was why? Why do you want it flexible - is that so you can sit on it. You might remember a few years ago there was one of big manufacturers had a problem with them bending in back pockets. Is it because you could drop it and not worry about it? Why do you want it to be flexible? So that's the first point. But, assuming it's because it's novel or something and there's some reason to do that.

The next thing is what is flexible? How thin does it have to be to be actually called flexible.To answer some of those questions, look a the actual structure of a phone because the front is a piece of glass for protection which is then the touch screen and the display - that can be made flexible. Some 20 years ago here in Cambridge there some technology that was invented within the University, and a number of applications of that are printed displays. So that's okay.

The next level back will be some sort of printed circuit board. Again, that's been flexible for many years, probably 30 or 40 years. On that you'll have some chips. Those chips can't be flexible because they're made of silicon, but they can be very, very small so flexibility will allow that.

But the big issue is the battery. They're just getting to the point now where a battery which is only half a millimeter thick will bend up to 25 degrees. So that doesn't sound like much flexibility and it's not very thick so it won't give you much capacity.

So, yes. We're heading that way. Not quite sure why we're heading that way, but we're heading that way. But I don't think it will get to the short of flexibility that I imagine you're meaning which is sort of rolling it up and putting it in your pocket.

Georgia - I was just thinking of Harry Potter. They have the newspapers where all the things sort of show up and the headlines move along. Could that be possible?

Peter - Yes. A display by itself is possible - there are flexible displays. We'll be getting to the point soon where you will buying packing on say a Coca Cola or something bottle which will vary depending on who you are almost. That's got the battery in there, that's got the display, but it's the other elements of it that are difficult to make that, but yeah.

Chris - Will it change the price so it'll deter you if you're on a diet? Don't buy this because.

Peter - Do you want to talk about price changing supermarkets. As you walk round a supermarket, there is no reason why a price shouldn't change depending on how much money you've got on your credit card.

Chris - That's what I was thinking. I can see this going this way where, potentially, you walk along and they think - oh, he looks like a sucker, we'll just put the price up because they know you're keen and you'll pay it.

Peter - Shelf edge labeling - yes exactly that?

Chris - There must be some consumer laws against that though, surely?

Peter - Why?

Georgia - I think a well known company was doing that based on where you were. The more affluent your area, the higher the prices. But I think they got in trouble and it's no longer allowed.

Peter - Much to my amazement. One of my sons is working for one of these consumer survey organisation now in London which does 60,000 people scan all their shopping every week and then photograph their receipts. And.

Chris - What photograph there lunch and put it on Instagram as far as they can tell?

Peter - Well this is in return for something, some sort of gift. But the point is that, actually, the pricing around the country doesn't vary nearly as much as you'd expect. That the people in the less well off areas and the people in Surrey - sorry anybody from Surrey - pay the same price.


Add a comment