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Transparent Smartphones Coming in 2013, 5 Ways It Will Impact You

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Polytron Technologies says that transparent and translucent smartphones are coming this year in 2013. These phones, according to the transparent glass-makers, would be largely transparent except that it will still reveal some internal phone circuitry, batteries, and components like chips, antennas, modems and memory cards. Most of the phone would then be see-through except the non-sexy parts, which will be covered by a casing of some sort–likely a plastic or metal shell.

A prototype of the device was shown recently, but the prototype was non-functional. Despite that fact, Polytron head Sam Yu says that he’s working with all smartphone manufacturers to deliver this technology commercially this year.

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According to Tech Hive, it’s still unclear how much a transparent smartphone would cost when it gets released. However, it seems that the technology are mature and we can begin to see products that were once concept come to life this year.

The move would be different from the way phones are made today. Rather than plastic or metal shells–or even painted glass ones like that on the iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, and the Google Nexus 4, the phone would be transparent with opaque circuitry with Polytron’s special glass. Polytron, which has made a name for itself generating privacy glass screens where at the push of a button, electric current can transform clear glass into opaque glass to serve as privacy screens. On the surface though, this may not seem prudent or even practical on a smartphone, but here are some potential applications of the technology in the mobile industry.

1. Hiding and Enabling Clutter

urlCertain non-critical components of a phone can be hidden behind translucent or colored glass, which would turn clear when a user needs to access those components. Apple had recently filed for a patent for an iPhone with similar technologies where a biometric fingerprint reader was hidden. For example, if you had a white iPhone, when not needed, the fingerprint reader would be hidden under white glass that was similar in color tones as the rest of the phone. However, when an app or the system calls for user authentication, the iPhone would change the glass to clear to reveal the fingerprint reader and users can swipe their fingers, after which the glass would change to the white hue again.

And how about hiding a secondary display as another example? The Samsung Continuum on Verizon Wireless had a ticker display just below the large primary display that was used to show ticker information. That display, when not needed, could be hidden behind a glass with colors matching the rest of the phone to give a continuous and seamless look.

2. The Geek Factor

urlDeveloper-centric phones that are targeted towards geeks could have special powers where the phone’s owner would be granted X-ray vision. Rather than blessing a developer limited edition of a phone with a special red color, like what BlackBerry is doing with its developer Z10 model, why not give the owners X-ray vision.

The glass panel behind the geeky Nexus 4 smartphone, for instance, can be activated to reveal the internals of a phone in a manner that’s consistant with Polytron’s privacy glass technology. There’s already been an iPhone concept with a transparent display and we can let our geek imaginations run wild about other implications for the tech.

There’s been various case modifications for some smartphones–including the iPhone–that would give owners X-ray vision to see the internal components. This, doubtfully, would be a mainstream feature, but would definitely be a cool one for technophiles to have and show off. Hide the components when you want a normal looking phone, and press a button or activate the feature through software to turn the rear glass panel clear and you can visualize and see all the internal components and circuitry. Manufacturers can do small limited edition runs of these phones and I think they’ll be able to command a price premium with geeks who want something different.

3. Wearable Computing

urlAnd beyond phones, there are tech accessories and gadgets that span the tech and fashion divide. We’re beginning to see that more with wearable computing devices, like the Nike+ Fuelband, the Pebble Smartwatch, and potentially even an iWatch from Apple. These devices not only need to be functional to perform the tasks that they are expected to complete, but if manufacturers add in a fashionable component it could expand the appeal of these products. Similar to how smartphones were relegated to the geeks and IT department before Apple introduced the iPhone and brought smartphones mainstream in 2007, transparent watches and perhaps even glasses (a la Google Glass) could become mainstream sensations.

4. Virtual and Augmented Realities

urlOne of the standout apps from Nokia’s Lumia series is the Nokia City Lens app, which allows you to point your phone in any direction and get nearby points-of-interest listings in that direction so you can walk, for example, 0.6 miles to the nearest cafe if you walked straight ahead. The technology uses your phone’s camera, GPS, and digital compass to display the information on your screen in a drawing that shows little dots on a circle marking where the POIs are and their distance from you–you’re at the center of this circle.

One application would be to just point your phone straight ahead, as if you’re taking a picture. Now, you’ll see the real world bearings–if you’re in front of a Barnes & Noble bookstore, you’ll see the building in real time, not just a re-drawn or photo of it–along with dots and points of interest. Let’s say you’re on top of a hilly street in San Francisco, California and could see the top of buildings from where you are. Pointing the phone and the camera down the street, dots can pop up at the top of these buildings to label the nearby delis, cafes, and bistros. It’s an improved world where reality meets digital.

5. Improved Alerts and Notifications

urlRather than having bright flashing LED lights present to alert you if you have a new mail message or a new text message, why not have part of the screen turn clear and reveal that information? One idea is to have the phone’s display be translucent–or even colored to match the case color so a white Galaxy S4 could potentially look like a white brick when it’s turned off–when not in use. Then, if a notification comes in, the notification bar at the top could turn clear and show the notifications waiting for you. Of course, there are other ideas for various implementations, but the possibilities are endless.

Tech enthusiast in Silicon Valley enjoying the possibilities of ubiquitous connectivity, information sharing, and collaboration enabled by mobile broadband. You can contact Chuong on Twitter @chuongvision or search +chuongvision on Google+.

25 Comments

  1. Dashing Maddy

    02/17/2013 at 3:41 am

    Is Transparent smartphone the Future of Smartphone?

    Find About Polytron’s Transparent Smartphone and Its Exclusive Pictures at

    http://wallstnews.blogspot.com/2013/02/transparent-smartphone.html

    • Andy

      11/19/2013 at 2:10 am

      Samsung… are you listening?

  2. anon54325423

    03/10/2013 at 12:36 am

    Except that “prototype” in the first image isn’t even an actual display. It’s just a flip-flop holographic image.

  3. Devon Armor

    03/17/2013 at 8:04 am

    I think transparent phones is a stupid idea that’s all flash and no function. I’d much rather have OEMs focus on improving battery life then waste money on trying to make transparent phones.

  4. Rabid Rotty

    03/19/2013 at 4:23 pm

    I can also make a non functional prototype with lexan and paint

  5. Omri Bar

    03/30/2013 at 8:16 am

    because finding your visible phone wasn’t hard enough -________-

  6. IPad decals

    04/01/2013 at 6:35 am

    I think thats its debatable whether its a good idea or not. I find that these days designers do things because they can. This allows them to differentiate their product in the market and give it that wow factor. Yea i agree that they should be investing in increased battery life etc although you have to admit its different. In this day and age trust me different sells.

  7. Jim Daily

    04/01/2013 at 12:43 pm

    Crap…because I don’t obsess enough already while trying to theme my phone.

  8. Ron WIlliams

    04/01/2013 at 8:04 pm

    Just think – you’ll be able to lose your phone on a glass coffee tables… progress, no?

  9. aaron

    04/05/2013 at 5:14 am

    Seems to be missing quite a lot in the circuitry department. I see no battery, no SOC, no antenna, no cell transmitters, nothing. Is this supposed to be serious or was this an april fools joke? a 2000+mAh battery is required to get through the day with a normal phone now, this can do the same with 2 watch batteries?

  10. Mark

    04/12/2013 at 8:20 am

    Hey here’s a great idea, why not replace boring old white paper with transparent sheets whenever you print something out? Never mind the fact it’s impossible to read, it’d look sooooo cooooool!
    Even the slightly useful augmented reality use falls down in two respects: 1) You can’t make a screen light up black to provide a contrasting background to enable you to read the labels like in the mock-up. 2) The overlaid information is at a different focal point to the background – the phone is near you, reality is far away. Using the camera to reproduce the image on the screen as normal makes sense as you don’t have to keep switching focus (unless you wish-up 3D as well, hey why not?).

  11. hakim alasaadi

    04/14/2013 at 12:58 am

    you will be the first young who is able to challenge the future & actually its great mobile.

  12. Raymond Malpica

    04/28/2013 at 12:56 am

    I know I’ll get transparent keys, so I won’t be able to find them on my transparent phone…maybe there in my invisible pants. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

  13. Jenko

    04/30/2013 at 10:05 am

    Sorry, but I have seen no upside to this technology so far. NONE of these 5 clear-phone applications are truly distinct to clear phones. This article highlights features already executed—a bit differently though just as effectively—by existing phones. Every ‘impact’ in the article seems to end with, “A part of the phone could now be clear instead of colored!” What’s the benefit exactly?

    #2 is the only reason anyone would buy this. We all know this deep down.

    #3 has nothing to do with phones.

    #4 is already handled EXACTLY as the journalist describes by multiple apps on existing phones—and this includes the Nokia City Lens app he mentioned! The article claims that with clear phones, “you’ll see the building in real time, not just a re-drawn or photo of it–along with dots and points of interest.” What A/R app redraws or shows photos of buildings? I don’t even believe such an app exists! In my experience, they all show the environment in real time, using the camera.

    Yes, I agree that the “possibilities are endless” with these phones, but that only means there are endless ways to turn part of the screen clear. I understand that this tech is very cool and I think we all appreciate its form, but I see no compelling function. I expect big initial sales due to coolness factor, then the tech will likely disappear from phones (though it may find a more practical home elsewhere).

    • Jenko

      04/30/2013 at 11:17 am

      My last post was a bit on the rude side. Sorry. These clear phones just get me all worked up.

  14. Fact

    05/02/2013 at 4:15 am

    Meanwhile, Apple is making an iPhone 5s. Get this: It might come in… COLORS!!

  15. laurel

    05/04/2013 at 7:27 am

    whats the battery life on a screen like this gonna be because count me out for like 3 generations of this if it makes the battery life worse. I have a galaxy note ii and I never going back to less battery life, end of story.

  16. andrewgarcia86

    05/19/2013 at 6:53 am

    Ways transparent phones will impact your life: you’ll always lose it.

  17. Nicholas Bodley

    05/23/2013 at 9:37 pm

    One of the most interesting articles about forthcoming tech’gy. that I’ve read for a few whiles :) . I was distressed by some distracting grammar, but didn’t notice the author’s name until after reading the article. If his first language is not English, he’s done a remarkable job of learning it!

  18. John

    07/06/2013 at 5:19 pm

    I’d rather hav a Nokia 3310

  19. Mikko

    07/10/2013 at 2:57 am

    Battery is Transparent too?

  20. mamamia

    07/26/2013 at 9:08 pm

    change your phone casing to a transparent case and now it’s a transparent phone.. hahaha…

    nokia 3310 already had this transparent technology…

  21. Paul

    08/15/2013 at 12:52 am

    They are setting the market up to crave flex screens, which will be a huge cost increase.

  22. test

    09/18/2013 at 1:26 pm

    Can you proof read your article? It seems that the technology ARE mature???

  23. Sam N

    09/29/2013 at 10:55 am

    The augmented reality idea wouldn’t work. As it is now, it draws the labels over a flat image on the screen, but if it were drawing the images simply over glass that the user was looking through there would not be a way to determine where to draw them. Let’s say, for example, the phone is pointed straight forward (the screen at a 90 degree angle to the ground) and the user is looking at the phone from the left side. In this case, the labels would need to be in a different place than they would if the phone was in the same position and the user was looking at it from the right side. This could possibly be overcome using eye tracking technology in the front-facing camera, but it would likely take a lot of fine-tuning before it actually worked as it should.

    Then there is the fact that while looking through glass you would see a much smaller area than you would while using the camera unless you had the phone directly next to the subject (and I mean within inches). Give it a try, launch the camera app and see if the image on the screen is proportional to everything around it. Now keep moving the camera closer to the subject until the on-screen image is life-size. You will be almost touching the subject before this happens. With glass, the image will always be life size, because you will always be looking at the actual object, not a scaled down version like on a phone. To compensate for this you would need to move the phone in the other direction, toward your eye, and it would need to be very close for you to see anything useful. Check out this very basic image I made in Paint to see what I mean: tinypic.com/r/5n1348/5.

    Perhaps as the technology develops companies will find workarounds for this, though I don’t really expect that they would put a lot of time into doing so as there does not really seem to be any advantage to using this particular method for augmented reality. The translucency in itself is a neat idea but I doubt it will ever be implemented for this specific purpose.

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