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Pixel Qi screen on a smartphone?

Pixel Qi netbook screenIn these sunny summer days, each new smartphone review seems to dedicate a sentence to whether the device’s screen is viewable in daylight. So far no consumer smartphone on the market truly shines under the sun. While some fare better than others, the range is from useless to just passable.  We’ve been stuck here for a while now, but I’m hopeful that things are about to change for phone-loving sun worshippers.

Color screen technology with good refresh rates that is genuinely viewable in direct sunlight is starting to make its way into laptops.  Pixel Qi, which has been showing off prototype screens for some time now, recently launched a DIY kit for certain netbooks that sold out almost instantly. While Pixel Qi’s screens provide poorer color reproduction than leading Super AMOLEDs and LCDs, they are far more usable outdoors. So does it make sense for this technology to become available in smartphones too?

The answer is actually not crystal clear.  Yes it definitely makes sense for people who live primarily outdoor lives to not have their use-cases restricted by their smartphone screen.  However on the other side of the coin, those who love watching videos and playing games on their smartphone are likely to enjoy a richer experience from a Super AMOLED or LCD, even if that means a compromise in daylight.

There are also other players in this game.  When we step into the shoes of a retailer or manufacturer that wants to sell devices in a store, other considerations come to light.  Their marketing departments want a product that sells itself in a controlled retail environment, and a vibrant screen is part of that “wow” factor. We’ve seen this already in the laptop market with glossy screens which, placed next to more practical matte displays, look shiny, attractive and probably sell in higher volumes as a result.

Even if Pixel Qi echoes its laptop strategy by releasing DIY kits for smartphones, that would be a great start. This is a revolution that would need to start at grass roots to gain enough traction to win mass market mindshare and consequent retail implementation.  By that time hopefully the indoor capabilities of Pixel Qi’s screens may even rival current Super AMOLEDs and LCDs.

If this dream does become reality of course only solves half the problem; the smartphone itself must be built to sufficient tolerances that it can survive intense heat without shutting down. Some manufacturers are better at this than others, but perhaps having Pixel Qi’s screen technology in the smartphone market could be the push manufacturers need to improve their hardware engineering.

Neil Berman


Jul 10, 2010 - Posted by | Analysis, Hardware, Mobile | , , , , ,

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