Why Glass is Critical to the Future of Tech

From the beginning of my career in tech, I came to understand how important the various materials are when it comes to creating products. My journey in semiconductors started by understanding the raw materials needed to create silicon-based wafers and then the processor itself. I continue to study the various materials needed to create all types of tech products that dominate our market today. It turns out, the material sciences are the lifeblood of all of tech creations and as such, science has advanced these materials, our tech products have become faster, smaller and more durable. It has made it possible for us to carry a PC in our pockets as we do now with our smartphones.

Up until about 2000, most of my work covering the PC industry was focused on components like PC displays, sound cards, semiconductors and similar items that made the PC a powerful tool for business, education and entertainment. But, with the introduction of the first flip phones and then eventually the smartphone, there is one material that has emerged that is probably only second to the processor when it comes to the importance of delivering a great user experience in all types of devices, especially mobile ones. That material is the glass screens on billions of feature and smartphones in the market today.

While I have known for some time the screens on our smartphones and tablets are a critical part of their design, I have to admit it was not until I saw the movie “Minority Report” did I realize the glass screen could be a key component of our digital future. Then in 2011, I discovered a fascinating video Corning put out entitled “A day made of Glass” and the important role glass will play in our digital world became clearer. In the video, glass mirrors become touch screens, glass table tops become computer screens, glass wall screens turn into touch-based portals to interact with content, etc. And in 2013, Corning updated the video to include even more fascinating ways glass will be integrated into our digital lifestyles.

Not long after Apple’s failed sapphire adventure, the role of glass, more specifically, Corning’s Gorilla Glass, became even more of a focus for me. It became clear Corning was advancing the properties of their glass screens and Gorilla Glass 4 is the most durable and scratch-free version they have ever brought to market. A new version in the works, code name Phire, is said to have properties close to if not equal to sapphire when it comes to delivering the scratchproof finish in a glass screen. Their R&D and advances in glass materials used in tech products seem unparalleled in our industry today.

There is a new entry in the market from Motorola that uses an OLED display and a plastic cover I also find interesting since Motorola claims their screen is unbreakable. Using a special five-layer process, which includes a plastic top cover for the OLED screen and the way they integrate it into the physical design of the Turbo Droid itself, it is purported to be an unbreakable smartphone. I hope to test one soon and, while I accept their premise, those who understand material sciences tell me a plastic screen could be dented or marred and over time could even yellow, which would impact its clarity. The folks from Motorola tell me they do not expect that due to some special coating they have on this plastic screen. But this is the first premium phone to use a plastic cover and it may be too early to tell if a plastic screen continues to hold up for the life of any smartphone.

That is why all other premium and mid-range smartphones use Gorilla Glass, as it has proven to be the best option for use on a pocket PC/smartphone and delivers the type of scratchproof durability needed, given the wear and tear smartphones take because of how they are used on a daily basis. While Glass screens are critical to the ultimate DNA of billions of smartphones in the market today, it is the future role glass will play in our digital lifestyles that should get most techies excited.

Corning’s futuristic videos give us a solid glimpse of our digital future. Putting glass screens on a table top and turning it into a huge interactive screen could change the way many people interact with their digital content. Making glass walls that can show off all types of video and content and applications that can be touched to activate them is exciting. Imagine a glass screen on your refrigerator or a glass mirror in the bathroom that delivers a touch-based gateway to all of your digital “stuff” and you begin to see the role glass will play in a much broader way in the near future.

The futuristic view Corning showed in 2011 and 2013 is closer to reality these days. If you happen to be at CES 2016, I understand Corning will be bringing this vision to life, featuring glass surfaces with extraordinary capabilities. If you are there, it would be worth seeing how much progress they have made in delivering their vision for glass and its potential impact on our tech future.

Published by

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

20 thoughts on “Why Glass is Critical to the Future of Tech”

  1. As I’ve recently been discussing with some colleagues here on the comments, I’ve started to become interested in the ergonomics of a large touchscreen UI. This was understandably absent in the Corning video, but could potentially be a large differentiator.

    If we want to use large glass screens as desks, we will probably want to rest our palms, arms on them. We will also probably place our Pencils on the surface. All this will require some kind of palm rejection. It is telling that all the desks in the Corning video were quite low like coffee tables, unlike our regular work desks, and at this height, you wouldn’t need palm rejection. However reading a screen that is that low would probably not be comfortable.

    I would be interested if you know of any research on the most natural ergonomic position for humans to interact with large touch screens, and what technology (like the palm rejection that I mentioned) is necessary for that to become a reality.

    1. That’s a lot of glass to keep clean. I wonder who gets that job? Will the cold virus mutate faster as more people touch the same large glass surface? But, really, who will clean the glass?

          1. Yeah, you’re right. I wouldn’t want to swipe a screen on a bus station for example, especially if the person before me was coughing violently. Of course, similar things happen on the Tokyo subways when we clench the handrails in the trains, but still.

            In that sense it’s a ridiculous concept video, but that’s how these things are generally.

          2. There are many public screens already, who cleans those? I’m sure it’ll get sorted. When it comes to computing devices, those typically won’t be shared much, they’re very personal, so as you say you’ll keep your own screen clean.

            But the world already has many shared public spaces and objects that require regular cleaning, there’s no issue here.

          3. It’s not a big issue, but I really don’t believe that glass is going to be critical to the future of tech. Isn’t it possible that corning needs to project a future with glass in it since their future relies on it.

            I don’t think public glass gets cleaned, along with many public objects. And, if they do, the objects are not something of considerable size and reflective enough to gross someone out visually.

            How about in your home, with kids, guests, etc… will it get sorted out? Sure, it always does, but who’s happy cleaning 5, 10, or possibly 15 square foot of glass. And, how often? Cleaning smaller objects is easy, the grossness is not as visible.

            Anyway, if most of the big tech companies are looking at some AI type of future and more personal devices, why would glass be that important? It seems that the return is marginal. Glass has been in production since around 3000+ BC, it hasn’t really changed much. Possibly adding oil for bonding, soda for heat, with a some lime to prevent the glass becoming a product that melts in water. Metals for color, different oxides for UV absorption, etc… It isn’t very high tech. I would guess the next and last leap is thinness with same tensile strength as its thicker cousin along with high transparency.

          4. Wait, I just passed the building cleaning person as they wiped down the front glass door. Clearly (see what I did there 🙂 things do get cleaned, even public touch points. During various SARs outbreaks there were even public discussions about how often and when to clean the elevator buttons.
            In the US we pick up shared menus in restaurants!

  2. A fantastic video with great vision. Many problems to be solved to get to that future, both technical and human. This future is a huge interdisciplinary endeavor. One worth getting right.

    I visited Corning once. These people know everything about glass, and they see everything as glass, kind of like a high-tech version of Bubba from Forrest Gump talking about shrimp. This! is dedication to one’s field, and is commendable.

  3. I’ve seen this video before. I like the updates. All I could think of was Max Headroom. There are, of course, a lot of underlying issues. All the same, It is not hard to imagine this future, more so today than even when I first saw the video.


  4. Based on experience about plastics and glass from working in the optical and consumer product industries, there is no commercial plastic that can match the scratch-resistance and long term clarity of glass. Eyeglass makers have been trying for years, and they certainly have no limit on pricing, yet eyeglasses still scratch more easily, in spite of added coatings.

    1. scratches vs breakage… an incredible 17% of iPhones in use in France have a cracked screen. I’m wondering if a cheap, easily replaceable plastic screen wouldn’t make more sense over time. a 2-layer setup, with all the expensive stuff on the bottom, and a scratchable upper layer acting as a throw-away protection for that.

      I find my current screens vibrant and brilliant enough, maybe working on durability now would be nice.

      1. I do believe there is some type of oil product in the glass to minimize and possibly reduce shatter. If that’s the case, the glass composition is getting closer to plastic than plastic behaving more like glass.

        However, I am assuming oil as part of the ingredients to make shatter proof glass. I can’t think of a more widely available cheap source.

      2. Easily replaceable glass does seem like a good idea, but i think it would come from the Android camp with it’s focus on cost-efficiency , while Apple doesn’t care about a bit more complexity , because it prefers people be dependent on it for maintenance.

        1. The funny thing that I observe here in Japan is that since iPhone is the best selling single phone model in the world, small repair shops have no trouble securing cheap parts from China. I’m not quite sure how good the cheap parts are, but since the iPhone comes from China as well, I don’t think they will be too bad. They might even come from the same factory line.

          So as a result, if you look up iPhone repairs on the web, you find small shops in alleys doing un-official repairs for cheap with these parts. About 40 USD for a screen replacement I think.

          In fact, I actually suspect that the reason why so many iPhones have cracked screens is because they still work fine. If you look at the “drop tests” of various phones, you will notice that iPhones tend to operate even with cracked screens. Androids not so much. In my personal experience, my Galaxy Nexus phone got a small, thin, almost invisible crack, but the screen died the following day. It no longer turned on.

  5. I think people should understand that the glass gestures in Minority Report are intentionally exaggerated for cinematic effect. They might makes sense for the occasional public presentation but who really wants to wave their arms around that way just to interact with a computer? Isn’t a touch pad better where you only need inches of travel to go across a screen the size of a table top?

    Desks as touch screens? Where do you put the stuff that normally sits atop the desk? How long can you work with your head tipped down to view a horizontal screen which, chances are, you’re viewing obliquely not perpendicularly like you would a vertically-oriented screen.

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