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article imageMicrosoft's flexible E-ink display makes your phone case smarter

By James Walker     Apr 19, 2016 in Technology
Microsoft Research has developed a flexible E-ink display that could make smart smartphone covers a reality. The display can detect the way you flex it, letting you perform different actions on your phone right from the exterior case.
The proof of concept prototype was demonstrated in a research paper this week. As Neowin reports, the possibilities afforded by "FlexCase" are currently being investigated by Microsoft Research, the Media Interaction Lab at the University of Applied Sciences in Upper Austria and the Institute of Surface Technologies and Photonics at Joanneum Research.
The FlexCase, should it ever hit the market, would transform your phone's case into a kind of secondary display for the handset. It would be like a more powerful version of existing smartphone cases that let you interact with the device, such as HTC's Dot View cover for Android devices.
The FlexCase's flexible E-ink screen makes it more versatile than current efforts. It can be used purely as a display or also as an additional input method, featuring multitouch support to act as a companion to a smartphone's primary screen.
FlexCase's final piece of functionality is the most unique. The case is able to detect the way in which it is being flexed and use this information to send commands to the device. Depending on how you flex your phone's case as you open it, the device could jump straight to a specific app.
FlexCase  a prototype flexible e-ink smartphone cover
FlexCase, a prototype flexible e-ink smartphone cover
Media Interaction Lab / Microsoft Research
The project aims to make your phone's case more functional. Cases can keep smartphones protected from scratches, scrapes and knocks but hide the display in the process. FlexCase would keep you alert to notifications and allow you to access the phone as quickly as without a case, opening an app or performing a quick action as you open it up.
"FlexCase is a novel flip cover for smartphones, which brings flexible input and output capabilities to existing mobile phones," the researchers said in the paper.
"It combines an e-paper display with a pressure- and bendsensitive input sensor to augment the capabilities of a phone. Due to the form factor, FlexCase can be easily transformed into several different configurations, each with different interaction possibilities. We can use FlexCase to perform a variety of touch, pressure, grip and bend gestures in a natural manner, much like interacting with a sheet of paper."
FlexCase  a prototype flexible e-ink smartphone cover
FlexCase, a prototype flexible e-ink smartphone cover
Media Interaction Lab / Microsoft Research
The research team have considered three different forms of FlexCase. In "book" mode, it would act as a secondary navigation screen, displaying route information alongside a map on your phone. As a "laptop," the cover would act as a touchpad and in "backside" mode it could be used to control the device without covering the display.
For now, FlexCase remains an intriguing proof of concept. Microsoft may choose to cease development of the project before it gets close to reaching the market. In the past, smart phone covers have failed to gain significant market traction, in part because their technology makes them more expensive than a standard model. This will be another issue Microsoft will need to consider for FlexCase to be a success, although there is currently no indication this will be a commercial product anytime soon.
More about Microsoft, eink, Display, Flexible displays, Smartphones
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