It is true that the world has become smartphone-prone arena. Progress through Technology Research has made it possible for a majority of individuals – even from the emerging nations – to get hold of a smartphone at their preferred price points. Then the big question arises “How long should you hold on to the smartphone before you replace or dispose it away?”
Such kind of doubts is primarily raised when a consumer becomes suspicious about the software and hardware capabilities of a smartphone. However, on a more practical note it can be found that in majority of the cases the reason for replacement or disposal of a smartphone is durability of the touchscreen.So,how can we extend the touchscreen life and, hence, the overall usability of a smartphone?
LG’s recent attempt with G Flex phone that has a self-healing back cover can be an answer to the above dilemma. Although LG introduced a glossy self-healing coating for its back cover, this development can become a precursor to the emergence of ultra-thin film smart coatings that can render touchscreens scratch-free for a substantial time period.
There are couple of logical ways to prepare smart self-healing coatings for touchscreens. These are:
Touch sensitive infinitely self-healing synthetic skin
This self-healing plastic film based on water can easily separate and reform in the liquid state. Working on the flexible nature of hydrogen bonds, the plastic material contains nickel to ensure electrical conductivity. Further research efforts by material scientists (Stanford University, US) on a stretchy and transparent version of the self-healing plastic can pave the way for these coatings into the smartphone touchscreen segment.
Waterborne polyurethane coating
Working on similar principles of elastic reversibility of hydrogen bonds, the polyurethane coating remembers its original position. On being scratched, the coating reassembles to regain the original shape, thus filling up the scratches. Bayer Material Science (Germany) is one of the established firms to have already developed temporary peel-off coatings based on this approach for a few technology firms within Asia.
However, the current issue is that only minor scratches can be mended and that too at a reasonably higher temperature. This limits the ability of majority of the current generation of smart self-healing coatings to warmer geographies and sophisticated users, who are unlikely to use their gadgets in a rugged manner. Once these hiccups are eliminated firms, both large and start-ups, can be expected to make a sizable foray into the self-healing coating space targeted at personal gadgets.This is not to say that commercial attempts have not been made to develop scratch-free touchscreen coatings.
For instance, Tech21 (UK) is one of the prominent firms that has partnered with BASF (Germany) for the supply of a specialized impact absorption polymer that is also used in military grade bullet proof glass. The Impact Shield technology based ultra-thin transparent coating seems to ensure impact resistance, self-healing feature and high degree of optical clarity even after prolonged UV exposure. Being made available from the middle of 2013 for Apple iPhone and Samsung Galaxy series of smartphones, these adhesive-free smart coatings are priced at around £15.
These developments indeed point towards an active interest among coating manufacturers to move beyond conventional non-functional coatings and make a concerted effort to develop functional smart coatings that can extend the durability of personal gadgets without much human intervention.
This article was written by Shauvik Haldar, Senior Analyst with DART Consulting.