Translucent screens


I direct your attention to the co–star of last year's surprisingly good 3D movie Expelled from Paradise, voiced by the Queen of Tsundere herself. Specifically, take note of the device she's using:

Angela Balzac from Exiled from Paradise

No, I'm not referring to her gravity defying leotard, or her otherwise traditionally constructed closed headphones (though the material science of both may be fascinating). She's using a music player or a phone equipped with a translucent display.

Whether it's the last episode of Star Trek Voyager, or Minority Report, or Tony Stark's wall mounted screens, futuristic displays necessiate them being translucent. This suggests two things:

  1. Technology has advanced to where translucent screens are possible
  2. Society deems them useful and practical

Point 1 is already partly true. HUDs on aircraft, flexible OLED displays and possibly even projectors allow this. At some point though, they'll be bright and affordable enough to be used everywhere.

Point 2 is more difficult. Just because something is technically possible, should we do it?

When we got high resolution screens with billions of colours, it took over a decade of skeuomorphic designs before we scaled back to simpler (pardon, “flatter”) interfaces. When Netscape implemented the <marquee> element, we had to endure it on sites before good (better?) taste prevailed. I'm sure you could list plenty more examples.

(Yes, I was in primary school at the time, and my first websites were flooded with marquees. We all do crazy things when we're young).

At some point, a translucent screened smartphone will appear. Maybe it will help people watch where they're going! But I'm unconvinced that just because point 1 is true, that point 2 necessarily follows (or that it even should).

Who knows, after a few generations of translucent devices, shipping with a solid background may be a selling point. Then we really would have come full circle.

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Ruben Schade is a technical writer and infrastructure architect in Sydney, Australia who refers to himself in the third person. Hi!

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