Surrounded by all sorts of screens, from our personal devices to displays in public places, we absorb large amounts of content. Most of it does not seem to differentiate much between various types of screens. Certainly, sizes, formats and other technical requirements are considered, but, other than that, we do not see much distinction between content showed on different screens.
However, with new kinds of displays coming along, this situation has the potential to change. In this exploration, we will look at interdependencies between screens and content and upcoming forms of screens that can bring about new models of interaction with visual media.
Despite being natural for smartphones, the vertical format was not widely accepted before the rise of stories on social media apps. With platforms like YouTube using the traditional 16:9 format, vertical videos caused anger among viewers, even though it is comfortable to shoot videos without turning the phone.
The situation has changed, and now the vertical-first approach attracts more attention. Viral videos for Instagram and TikTok are primarily produced in vertical format, and there is marketing research that shows that vertical videos are more engaging than horizontal — users watch them longer and more often react to them.
The success of vertical content on mobile platforms resulted in the launch of new products and services. In 2019, Samsung released a TV which can be positioned either horizontally or vertically. This feature is supposed to help viewers who want to watch content from social media on a large screen, yet it misses the point of this type of videos — their interactive aspect.
Swiping from one video to another, sharing funny bits with friends and reacting with a like or a message — all these activities are a key part of the user experience, and the company ignored it altogether.
Another example of a company trying to create new experiences for smartphone users is Quibi. The idea behind it was to create 10-minute episodes shot by professional production teams and starring Hollywood celebrities.
Eventually, the app failed to attract subscribers and was recently shut down. As with vertical TVs, one of the possible explanations of customer disinterest is the lack of interactivity and social connection that attracts people to TikTok and Instagram in the first place.
In the near future, we will probably see more attempts to rethink vertical videos — the key is to pay attention to what can be unique about this particular form of content. The relationship between content and screen does not exist in a vacuum — it is always defined by how humans interact with the technology, and uncovering this special ingredient can give birth to new peculiar scenarios.
The average size of smartphones has been rising for the past decade as manufacturers stop releasing smaller models of devices. But there is a natural limit to that growth — a phone still needs to fit in one hand.
Combining the convenience of a smaller size and wider possibilities of a large screen is a foldable phone. There are already several models available for users, each with its own shape — some of the phones have only one screen folding inside, others also have an external screen that can be used in the folded state.
Particularly interesting is Motorola’s take on the foldable phone — the company used the form of their legendary Razr flip phone, removing its keyboard and placing the screen on both halves of the inner side.
Still in their budding phase, current "foldables" are pretty simple, as they have only one fold. Probably, that is why the content for such phones stayed pretty much the same as for traditional smartphones. When folded, smartphones adjust the content and split it between two halves of the screen, but no other interaction between parts exists.
However, more experimental models are being developed — one of the pioneers of foldable screen technology, Royole, presented a prototype of a smart speaker with a screen wrapped around it. The same company launched experimental hats and shirts with ultra-thin screens on them — even though these garments are not something that is going to be mainstream any time soon, they still raise questions about how the changing shape of this screen can be supplemented by the content.
Another rapidly evolving technology is transparent displays. They were previously used in small devices, such as the infamous Google Glass, but, recently, larger see-through screens started appearing more often in various contexts. One of the most notable cases is transparent TV, released by Xiaomi.
The device lacks the contrast and brightness of regular LCD or OLED screens and is way more expensive at the same time, so transparent screens are not yet ready to become parts of our homes and offices. The technology, however, is appealing for businesses who can use those screens as their storefronts.
Another case of using a transparent screen in public spaces came from the Chinese subway. Windows in some trains were switched for see-through displays, which allows showing important information, while not blocking the view. The screens are, for now, installed in trains on two lines — one in Beijing, one in Shanghai — but LG, who created the technology, plans to expand it to other routes.
Transparent screens are a perfect fit not only for all sorts of public transportation but for cars as well. See-through displays, called head-up displays, were mainly used in premium models since the 1990s, and now they are becoming more of the mainstream. Embedded in front windows, HUDs work similarly to AR technologies, using information from sensors to show cues for the driver.
The topic of our visual experimentation was exploring how screens and their content can be connected. We were going to subvert the situation when the content exists separately from the screen, using it as merely a surface to exist on.
In some of our fictional devices, we decided to explore analog media instead of digital. One of our concepts reminds of a lamp with soft light, while another included ways to interact with the content. Rotating lattices, a user of this lamp/device can change the patterns on its surface, personalizing their experience.
Other devices, even ones that seem to use digital content, still use hand-on interactions — elements on a screen move when a handle turns or attract like magnets when separate displays get close to each other.
Maxim Zhestkov, Igor Sordokhonov
Design, Art Direction, Animation:
Sergey Shurupov, Roman Kuzminykh, Dmitriy Ponomarev,
Artur Gadzhiev, Denis Semenov