What about a plastic, self-healing screen? (Poll)

Update: Y2K bug fixed. Poll is now open!

Let’s take a trip, you and I. We’re going to hop into our DeLorean and head on back, not to 1955, but rather back to the future. I’m not really sure what year we’re going to go to, but it’ll be right down the block from fantasy land as well. There’s some funky times up ahead. Fasten your seat belts.

We’re going to go to a time in which we can, as a consumer, own a smartphone with a screen that heals itself. It’s really not so crazy, but it would require a bit of tweaking to today’s technology. But first, let’s establish some background as to where I’m coming from with this.

The LG G Flex is the basis for this thought-experiment. The self-healing chassis of the phone is coated with a polymer/plastic/elastic coating that pushes out scratches and dings because it’s awesome. We put the Flex’s healing properties to the test and found that minor scratches and dings are a breeze and quickly forgotten.

scratch testAs long as we’re dreaming

Now imagine that same technology applied to the front of the device. Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “Heck, as long as we’re wishing for things, how about a unicorn that farts gold bricks?” and you’re not entirely wrong. There are several reasons why this discussion is firmly in the “thought-experiment” category and not in practical use.

Most notable among those reasons – capacitive screens need to be glass, which probably eliminates the possibility of a self-healing screen, since those are made of polymers, rather than glass. Resistive screens can be plastic – my Garmin handheld GPS’s screen is resistive and plastic after all, so I suppose that might be a candidate, but capacitive, multi-touch screens might present a problem.

It may be possible that this self-healing screen could morph into a self-healing screen protector of sorts. But another aspect of this idea comes from the thought that a plastic screen would be more resistant to cracking, shattering and all sorts of unpleasantness. On a recent trip downtown, on a single train car, I saw no less than four smartphones with cracks snaking across their width – my GSIII among them, unfortunately. This was another source of inspiration for this idea.

Friends don't let friends have scratched phones.

Friends don’t let friends have scratched phones.

The lighter the better

But the downside to all this is the inherent weaknesses in LG’s self-healing technology. First of all, LG’s self-healing polymer can only heal light scratches and nicks. Anything more than a casual brush against your keys and your screen might just have a new friend for life. True a rigorous massage in an arid climate might help the polymer’s ability to heal, but if you’re going to have anything even approaching a deep scratch, and this concept is dead on arrival.

Which also leads to point number two in that these plastic, shatter resistant screens are going to be more prone to scratching as opposed to their Gorilla Glass III counterparts.  But will the fact that most of those scratches will heal themselves be enough to abandon Gorilla Glass entirely? I’m not so sure. But the trade off that these plastic and coated screens would be less likely to shatter is a compelling argument to at least give the idea a shot.

Then again, there is the screen protector idea. A Gorilla Glass screen with a self-healing screen protector might be a best of both worlds scenario. It’s not like screen protectors on Gorilla Glass are foreign concepts, but they would do little to improve the shatter resistance that I’m looking for. But at the same time, there is something to be said for a screen that heals itself. It’s just so sexy to think about.

It’s coming, or is it?

We’re not there yet, but maybe we’re not that far off. So now the question is, is this a technology we should pursue? Is there interest there? Would it be worth the money to finance the research? The reality is that these screens/screen protectors would be more scratch prone than Gorilla Glass. But the likelihood is that the scratches they got would heal themselves, which would basically mean that there would be no scratches at the end of the day. If the screens could be plastic, and therefore more flexible and less likely to shatter, that’s a big win in my book. For the record, in this thought-experiment, we are going to assume that the screens themselves will still be multitouch and will be just as bright, responsive and colorful and pretty as today’s screens. They only variable we are looking at here is the material and how it responds to scratches/dings.

So what say you? Is Gorilla Glass three ringing your bell, or is this something that you feel would be worth pursuing? Vote below and let us know.

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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!