If you look at any science fiction — or future-looking — program from before the turn of the century, one thing stands out above all others in terms of being slightly out of place. That’s the use of old cathode ray tube displays for information display. The future — so the past told us — would be full of spaceships with clunky old tube displays of quite small sizes.
Right now, this isn’t so; CRTs aren’t much more than council pickup fodder, with everything being a flat panel, whether it’s on a tablet, laptop or television screen. As such, anything shot today tends towards using that for visual display, although the occasional program will muck around with hologram based displays. The power needs of that kind of technology make it unlikely that they’ll become mainstream, although it’s always possible.
What seems more likely in the near future are technologies based around taking the kinds of flat displays that have become common, and making them inherently more flexible. I’ve seen a number of prototyped and discussed displays that have used different approaches to making what would be, in essence, digital paper. Some have rolled out like sushi mats, presuming that you’d have a solid edge against which the “paper” — it’s more likely to be a kind of plastic — would sit, while others eschew any kind of obvious “back” to the paper. At the same conference where they discussed Memristors — HP unveiled its plans for a future flexible — and so it was claimed, almost unbreakable — display technology that could be in commercially available products within two years. HP’s vision of flexible computing revolves around a technology it’s working on called Self-aligned imprint lithography (SAIL), a relatively simple printing process for this kind of thin display. That’s relative to the existing photolithographic methods; this is still some pretty cool science.
So why the fascination with flexible thin displays, aside from the fact that they’d mimic something that Hollywood’s been pretending for years? A flexible thin display would naturally be lighter than just about anything but paper; while this year’s Ultrabooks tout themselves as being light because they hover around the one kilogram mark, these could be portable computers — or more likely, portable displays linked to online computers — that weigh only a few grams each.