February 8, 2007 8:33 AM PST

Philips unit to launch rollable-screen handheld

A division of Philips will show off what it claims is the world's first "rollable display" cellular device at the mobile technology exhibition 3GSM next week.

Polymer Vision's Readius device, which has a roll-out grayscale screen, is being touted as a combination 3G-enabled PDA and e-book reader. Telecom Italia Mobile is the first operator scheduled to release it, with a commercial launch set for the end of the year. Polymer Vision has not confirmed any discussions with U.K. operators.

Polymer Vision's Readius cell phone

The device's makers say that the touch screen, which extends as far as 5 inches from the body of the device, "offers a readability similar to printed paper" with high contrast and high reflectivity. Future versions could include color and the ability to show moving images, the company said.

TIM's customers will be able to download newspapers and e-books for the device through their mobile-network SIM card. The Readius will offer Wi-Fi connectivity, a mini-USB port and "an optimized combination of cellular (EDGE/UMTS) and broadcast (DVB-H IP data-casting) mobile functionalities," the company said. The device also will work as a music player.

Because of the LED screen's low-power consumption, Polymer Vision said, the device will need to be charged only every 10 days on average.

According to Thomas van der Zijden, vice president of marketing at Polymer Vision, the company's initial production capacity for the Readius devices will be "a few hundred thousand," which he said was a "very small number" for the mobile industry. "It's a starting point and we can extend that capacity if needed," he said.

The cost of the device remains a secret for now, although van der Zijden insisted that LED displays were intrinsically cheaper to produce than their LCD rivals because they do not require backlighting. If economies of scale are applied during their manufacture, he said, the rollable displays could be competitively priced.

Van der Zijden also insisted that the new Readius was a major advance on its initial concept model, shown to the world in 2005. "That product was really an engineering laboratory type of product that showed it was possible, but the reliability and robustness of that display wasn't good enough for commercialization," he said on Wednesday, claiming that the new device performed better, was more reliable and could display 16 rather than 4 shades of gray.

"This black-and-white display should really be seen as a first step towards a world where every mobile device has a rollable display," said van der Zijden, who added that this would happen only when the displays could manage color and video, a development he puts at five years from now.

He also suggested that the displays would offer new opportunities for content publishers, operators and the advertising industry.

David Meyer of ZDNet UK reported from London.

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The "Global" is coming...
A feature of the show "Earth: Final Conflict," which though constantly used was treated with the same matter-of-fact regard we have for cell phones, was the so-called "Global" (probably short for "Global Communicator," though never called that in the series). It was the length and thickness of a PDA, but when not in use only half as wide. When used, a touch-screen would pop out from the right-hand side, expanding the width to slightly more than a regular PDA, but it was occasionally shown that it could extend to the proportions of a widescreen. The device was mostly used as a video cell phone and data terminal, but it also had built-in GPS and document scanning abilities.

Ever since I heard of digital ink technology and the concept of foldable or rollable screens, I knew there was some potential for this device to occur in real life, so I'm more than pleased to see this first real step towards it. Since no one appears to want to make a Star Trek communicator cell phone (which is a cryin' shame, as it's eminently do-able; it would actually be a [i]stripped-down[/i] phone by today's standards!), sign me up for a Global when they come out!
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