Do we really want transparent phones in the future?

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Let’s take a moment and step into the future, shall we? When you think about what the future might hold for mobile technology, there are a couple of things that emerge as “futuristic”. I want to address one of those things here, as we decide now whether we’ll be better off with transparent tech in the future. Seems like every time we watch a movie that has anything to do with the future, we’re always seeing these crystal-clear phones and tablets that are basically sheets of glass, or plastic that display information on them. It’s probably the next step after we finally get that edge-to-edge, top to bottom screen we all seem to want.

A mysterious engineer from Edinburgh, known as Professor Scott, provided the formula for transparent aluminum

Cool factor

Look, I get it. Transparent tech is pretty cool. Beyond all practicality, it would be just awesome to carry around a glass slab that comes to life on command. It’d be like magic, making information appear out of thin air. Trust me, I’m on board with this. Plus, just think about the potential applications of such tech.

With it you can integrate displays and touch screens into just about anything – your windshield, your coffee table, your bathroom mirror, etc. The fact that it’s transparent gives it the main selling point that I look for in tech – there when you need it, out of the way when you don’t. When you think about the kinds of things you could overlay transparent tech onto, it’s really incredible what’s possible.

I could go into paragraphs and paragraphs about what we could integrate the tech into, but I won’t – use your imagination. The fact of the matter is, this kind of tech would be everywhere you need it to be. Phones, tablets, wearables, surfaces, you name it. It would allow you to have information at your fingertips almost anywhere you were. No longer would home devices have to integrate a screen or electronics into their design – they could be overlaid on top. Pretty powerful stuff.

And yet…

But then we have to consider if we need to have all this information everywhere? Do we need to have a touch sensitive screen on your toaster that can read you the latest headlines from Pocketnow.com? It makes me wonder how far the technology would go until it became ridiculous. Dining room tables that could stream Netflix. Doors that can display a “Back in one hour” sign. We’re already at a point where most restaurants are installing LCD TVs to display their menus. I don’t know about you, but I’m not convinced that this is a better experience.

Plus, when you consider the key characteristic of these transparent displays, it should give you pause. It’s not always so easy to read off a transparent display, depending on the background you are holding it against. Black text won’t show up very well if you’re sitting on a train with a grey floor, etc. It’s a usability issue. Perhaps you’re thinking, “Well, you can change the background of the phone to make it readable.” Then what’s the point of having it be transparent?

Solution looking for a problem

You see, transparency is only good when you want to see what is behind the transparent item. Making a phone transparent is the technological equivalent to Yoda light-saber battles. Hey! Look what I can make Yoda do! And that’s about it. Sorry Star Wars fans. They were a little silly, but that’s probably the subject of a different article on a different site. My point is, making a transparent phone is basically just telling people “Hey, look what I can do!” As Juan Carlos Bagnell might say, it’s a solution looking for a problem.

I’m just not sure we have that problem yet. Maybe when our phones turn into a network of wearable items, we will want glasses with transparent tech built into them. Maybe this kind of transparent tech will be the key to making Augmented Reality…well, reality. But until we get there, I’m just not convinced there is a real need for totally transparent phones, unless you just want to lose your phone while it’s sitting on a table.

But what do you think? Do you crave a crystal colored world in the future? Are you looking forward to looking forward through your phones? Say that five times really fast. Or do you think that perhaps that’s a bit sensational for what is actually needed in this day and age? Sound off below in the comments – that’s what good debaters do – and let’s see if we can figure this out.

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About The Author
Adam Doud
Adam joined the tech world after watching Jon Rubenstein demo the most epic phone ever at CES 2009. He is webOS enthusiast, Windows Phone fan, and Android skeptic. He loves the outdoors, is an avid Geocacher, Cubs/Blackhawks fan, and family man living in Sweet Home Chicago, where he STILL hosts monthly webOS meetups (Don’t call it a comeback!). He can be found tweeting all things tech as @DeadTechnology, or chi-town sports at @oneminutecubs. Read more about Adam Doud!