In an era where all of our most important personal tech gadgets merge within glass bricks of uniform design, smartphone makers are willing to do whatever it takes to stand out. Flexible screens come into play, and the screen refresh rate increases from 60 Hz to 90 Hz. And, of course, we must not forget about playing with nostalgia.
A new find is the disappearing main camera. The Chinese brand OnePlus decided to play this card by presenting a prototype smartphone called Concept One.
Finally, the partnership with McLaren made itself felt not only in design, but also in technology. OnePlus wants to use the same technology found in the glass roofs and windows of the British automaker's supercars. The camera lens on the back of the smartphone is located under a special glass, the tint of which changes under the influence of an electrical signal. As a result, the camera lens appears when you open the Camera app and then visually disappears when the app is not in use. OnePlus plans to showcase the concept phone at the annual CES electronics show in Las Vegas.
Concept One lives up to its name. This is just a concept. OnePlus says it has no plans to launch commercial devices anytime soon. However, according to Pete Lau, co-founder and CEO of OnePlus, who communicated with WIRED via video chat, the phone represents “a bold exploration for OnePlus, and also represents a multitude of engineering challenges to overcome.”
Pete Lau also said the company will produce small test batches, distribute them to user groups, and collect feedback to bring the technology to commercial standards.
Without even knowing that McLaren was involved in the development of the Concept One, it's easy to see the distinctive racing car aesthetic in the smartphone design. The model phone, which Wired saw at a briefing in San Francisco last month, had a signature orange leather back with visible seams around the edges and a thin black electrochromic glass overlay running down the center of the back cover.
The Concept One has the same main camera specs as the OnePlus 7T Pro McLaren: a 48MP camera with a 16MP ultra wide-angle camera. The only difference is the electrochromic glass on the Concept One. It effectively hides the camera from view, so the lenses are completely invisible when the camera application is not running. Open the camera and the camera lens prompt appears on the back of your smartphone. You have to carefully peer into the electrochromic glass to notice the lenses.
The same electrochromic glass technology is used in the optional sunroof of the McLaren 720S supercar. By the way, this is an additional option, bought for $ 9,100 (and if you buy a sports car for $ 300,000, then yes, you can afford electrochromic glass).
A special tinted glass technology was also available in the 2018 McLaren 570GT. According to Pete Lau, his creative director Xi Zeng saw glass on the 720S during a trip to McLaren's headquarters in Woking, England, and inquired if it could be used in small devices. OnePlus was intrigued enough to single out a separate group of engineers to work out the idea.
Expectations from Concept One don't quite match reality. When they say 'disappearing camera', you are rather imagining something magical. Well, or at least a more pronounced physical transition. But in reality, it is just a camera that is very difficult to notice.
Pete Lau says that they faced a number of challenges when creating a smartphone with electrochromic glass.
First, electrochromic glass involves adding another material over the glass of the back cover. And thickness was one of the main concerns. Ultimately, according to Lau, the total thickness of the concept smartphone in its current design has grown by only one tenth of a millimeter due to the new glass.
Electrified glass becomes dark or transparent under the influence of current. Accordingly, another problem to be solved was finding a way to make the technology consume as little energy as possible.
Another challenge is the speed of the fade. For example, if, due to the slow unlocking of the camera, the user misses the opportunity to take a good picture, then the price of such technology is worthless. The Boeing 787 Dreamliner currently uses electrochromic glass and takes a few seconds to change state. Pete Lau promises that the OnePlus concept changes state in just a second.
The third issue is reliability. Check out how Samsung flew by with the first iteration of its foldable smartphone, for example. On the issue of reliability, Pete Lau said the company is still working on it. According to Andrew Dent (a senior executive from a research and consulting firm in New York), the technology has a life span issue. Dent says the problem is common to the technology as a whole. It manifests itself, for example, in architectural solutions. And, of course, smartphones are unlikely to be an exception. If you constantly change the mode, then after a few years (the exact time can be predicted) the glass degrades. This will manifest itself in the fact that there will be areas that are not completely transparent, and the level of transparency itself may also decrease. And changing the glass is expensive, because you will have to change the whole glass.
One Plus, according to a journalist from Wired, is known as the company that brings new technologies to the market first. As an example, this journalist cites a screen refresh rate of 90 Hz, a motorized camera and the design of the back of OnePlus smartphones. But OnePlus has a micro-market share, so electrified glass technology, according to the Wired journalist, could remain a concept for a long time if none of the major players pay attention to it.
The desire to hide camera lenses is in line with the concept of 'burdenless design', which can be translated as design without complications. The main principle of such a design is to remove all unnecessary, distracting, leaving only the screen to the user. Accordingly, speaker grilles, cameras, all connectors and buttons go under the knife. This is a common industry trend. This is how the fingerprint scanners are hidden in the screen. Samsung's new 2020 smartphones are expected to have inconspicuous camera cutouts that can be difficult to spot with the right wallpaper. There are rumors about Apple that in 2021 the company plans to even get out of the charging port, making the design of the smartphone as laconic as possible.
Original Material: OnePlus Shows Off a Phone With a Disappearing Rear Camera
First of all, I want to note that the Wired journalist, although he writes in the article that OnePlus is part of BBK Corp, still for some reason says that the technology may not see the light of day until one of the major players takes notice of it. BBK Electronics is just a major player that will definitely come out on top in the world in terms of smartphone sales in 2020. А OnePlus хоть и обладает определенной самостоятельностью, но черпает ресурсы из R&D лабораторий BBK. And most likely, when the technology becomes commercially viable, the first smartphones with electrochromic glass will come out under the Oppo brand or Vivo in China. And then the technology will be shown to the West using the example of OnePlus.
Burdenless design seems to be a trend throughout the industry. The same TVs have long turned into a screen without controls. For example, Samsung's QLED series is a screen with a multi-meter cable to the control unit, which can be hidden in a closet. Smartphones are no exception. The fingerprint scanner has already learned to hide under the screen. And the half-dead HTC demonstrated in her flagships how you can make a smartphone without real buttons, leaving only marks in which a vibration motor simulates pressing buttons, and whole zones that can be squeezed.
Accordingly, sadly, but we are really following the path when all smartphones will look exactly the same. A screen from the front, or even around the entire body, and the absence of any controls both on the body of the smartphone and in the interface (control gestures). By the way, this is probably the reason why the future older generation will find it difficult to master new technologies. Now you and I sometimes laugh at older people who cannot cope with the touchpad of a laptop, mouse or smartphone screen. And we think that we certainly won't be like that in old age. But technologies are developing, and it is likely that in our 60-70 years we will look at the glowing translucent bricks with dull amazement and say: 'Well, how is that? I've done entire articles on smartphones, why can't I figure this out GugloApploid 357? '
The tinted glass technology itself seems like a marketing delight. But it may find itself amid growing user concerns about privacy. Agree that dark glass that does not let the image through is credible. It is clear that no one will be able to pry. And the question arises, is it possible to implement a similar function for a selfie camera?