When IBM first popularized the PC, green-screen monitors were the norm. Later, as graphics cards improved, those monochrome screens gave way to color. Today, bulky color CRT monitors are things of the past, replaced by thin, power-efficient LCDs. Further advances, such as OLED backlighting, are making modern flat panels brighter and crisper than ever. But this is hardly the end of the road for display technology.
For one thing, current-generation LCD panels tend to be fragile, as anyone who has dropped or sat on a mobile phone can tell you. To that end, Sony is developing flexible LCD technology that it hopes will yield not only more durable devices, but ones that are less costly and cleaner to manufacture. Current prototypes, while low-resolution, are so flexible that they can be rolled around a cylinder 4mm thick.
Another idea is to get rid of the monitor altogether. LCD projectors are commonplace enough, but they tend to be bulky and require expensive bulbs to operate. Also, their image quality varies greatly depending on ambient lighting conditions. That could change, however, with the introduction of digital projectors based on laser technology. Traditional monitors produce color using a combination of red, green, and blue light. Because reliable green laser light has proved difficult to produce, manufacturers have thus far been unable to use lasers in projection devices. Corning claims to have solved that problem, meaning it may soon be possible to project brilliant imagery from a device as small as a mobile phone.
Displays that perform equally well in daylight remain a challenge, but given the growing popularity of e-readers, it's one that scientists and engineers are eager to solve. A promising technology from Qualcomm called mirasol produces vibrant color imagery by reflecting ambient light from layers of tiny electromechanical mirrors; it should be available in consumer products in the coming year. Meanwhile, a Philips spin-off called Liquavista is a little further off, but it works either with reflected ambient light or a self-contained backlight.
User interface: Beyond the mouse
The ways in which we use computers have changed radically since the dawn of the PC era, but the ways in which we interact with computers are essentially the same as when Apple introduced the first Macintosh in 1984. The desktop metaphor, with its cursors, pointing devices, files, folders, windows, scrollbars, and other control widgets still dominates virtually every graphical OS platform.
At least that's true in real life. Look to the fanciful worlds of Hollywood movies, however, and you'll see a dazzling array of radical new UI concepts, from the hovering screens of "Minority Report" to Iron Man's in-helmet displays. Can any of these ideas be made practical for commercial use?