A division of Philips will be showing off what it claims is the world's first "rollable display-enabled" cellular device at the mobile technology exhibition 3GSM next week.
Polymer Vision's Readius device, which boasts a roll-out greyscale screen, is being touted as a combination of a 3G-enabled PDA and an e-book reader. Telecom Italia Mobile (TIM) is first in the queue to release it, with a commercial launch pencilled in for the end of the year, but Polymer Vision has not confirmed any discussions with UK operators.
The device's makers claim that the touchscreen, which extends as far as five inches from the body of the device, "offers a readability similar to printed paper" with high contrast and high reflectivity. Future versions could include colour and the ability to show moving images, the company says.
TIM's customers will be able to download newspapers and e-books for the device through their network SIM card. The device will boast Wi-Fi connectivity, a mini-USB port and "an optimised combination of cellular (EDGE/UMTS) and broadcast (DVB-H IP data-casting) mobile functionalities", and will also work as a music player.
Due to the LED screen's low power-consumption, claimed Polymer Vision, the device will only need to be charged every 10 days on average.
According to Thomas van der Zijden, vice president of marketing at Polymer Vision, the company's initial production capacity for the Readius devices will be "a few hundred thousand", which he admitted was a "very small number" for the mobile industry. "It's a starting point and we can extend that capacity if needed."
The cost of the device remains a secret for now, although van der Zijden insisted that LED displays were intrinsically cheaper to produce than their LCD rivals as they do not require backlighting. With economies of scale, he said, the rollable displays could be competitively priced.
Van der Zijden also insisted that the new Readius was a major advance on its initial concept model, shown to the world in 2005. "That product was really an engineering laboratory type of product that showed it was possible, but the reliability and robustness of that display wasn't good enough for commercialisation," he said on Wednesday, claiming that the new device performed better, was more reliable, and could display 16 rather than four shades of grey.
"This black-and-white display should really be seen as a first step towards a world where every mobile device has a rollable display," said van der Zijden, who added that this would only happen when the displays could manage colour and video — a development he puts at five years from now. He also suggested that the displays would offer new opportunities for content publishers, operators and the advertising industry.