The new iPhone 5 with its 4-inch Retina display is cool but what technology is waiting in the wings to make the iPhone 5 and a lot of other gadgets and gear obsolete? Here's a rundown of some promising tech and how it could affect the gadgets you might be using in the future.
Metal Oxides in Future DisplaysHow is the display industry going to keep up with consumers' demands for larger, higher density and cheaper displays? One answer will come in the form of a replacement for the currently used amorphous silicon-based thin film transistors (TFTs) that are used to drive the pixels of most flat panel displays. Backplanes of the future will very likely use a different material called metal oxide. One variation of this new material is made up of indium, gallium and zinc and referred to as IGZO which can be used to make larger, less expensive very high pixel density OLED and LCD displays. At the recent Display Week show, Sharp showed off a 6.1-inch LCD with a 498 ppi (Apple Retina display is 326 ppi). With pixel densities that high will we see a glasses-free 3D iPad in the future? Not only will metal oxide displays be large with high pixel density (Sharp announced a 13.5 OLED panel with 3840 x 2160 resolution) but the same material can be used to make flexible displays. This technology may help make 4K TVs practical and wristband smartphones possible or just offer a cheaper way to manufacture large HDTV sets using "roll-to-roll" production.
MEMS Electronics Will Find More Applications
MEMS stands for micro electro-mechanical systems. MEMS devices combine tiny moving parts and electronics to create the sensors that have helped make gadgets like smartphones and tablets as popular as they are today. Without the tiny 3D-accelerometers and 3D-gyroscopes we wouldn't have half the cool features found in mobile devices. You can expect to see even more sensors like a new human presence detector from Omron that uses a MEMS temperature sensor to detect IR radiation or this MEMS-based microphone that was shown at the recent Sensors Expo. MEMS sensors will be used in everything from digital cameras, robots, medical devices and cars to just about anything you can imagine.
Quantum Dots Will Make Displays BetterQuantum dots are nanocrystal phosphors that can be "tuned" to emit different colored light by adjusting their size when manufactured. Quantum dots can be used to make a whiter LED (current white LEDs are made mainly from combining blue and yellow) which can be used to create a "purer" backlight and hence a better looking LCD display. They can also be used to help OLED displays emit better color. Nanosys, one of the primary QD companies today offers a "tuned optical filter" for displays that they claim can help make an LCD display output 50% more color than they are currently able. QD-enhanced displays may allow manufacturers like Samsung and LG to offer LCD displays that look as good as OLED displays for less money than OLED displays.
New Intel Rosepoint Chip Could Power a Dick Tracy Watch or an iWatchAt the recent Intel Developer Forum (IDF), engineers showed off a system-on-a-chip that incorporates an all-digital "Moore's Law Radio" that has been in development for many years due to the difficulty of turning analog radio components into digital versions. The new chip called Rosepoint integrates Intel Atom processors and a 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi radio on a single chip. A digital Wi-Fi radio on a chip could usher in all kinds of products including a "ring," "necklace" or "watch" computer. We read a theory recently that the reason Apple changed the shape of the iPod Nano was to make way for an Apple "iWatch" which could very well use the Rosepoint chip.
Memristors Could Replace Flash MemoryMemristors (memory resistors) were billed as a huge technological breakthrough when they were first announced by HP back in 2010. Recently researchers at Oregon State University announced they had found a new inexpensive method to produce memristors using zinc tin oxide. Memristors work like transistors but use electrical resistance to store data for a long time without power. The material used by OSU is similar to the metal oxide being considered for use in future display backplanes. Expect to see higher capacity non-volatile memory based on memristors replacing flash memory in future devices.
Better Gesture ControllersWe've featured this technology from Leap Motion in the past and can't help bringing it up again in the context of game-changing technology. With a gesture controller this precise built into a tablet, laptop, or TV we could see the realization of "Minority Report" in future devices although we did just read recently that Tom Cruise complained about how much his arms hurt from having to hold them in position to move around the virtual documents.