While these crude materials merely mimicked flexible glass or plastic touchscreens, their main function was to support the shape-shifting materials and provide researchers with potential concepts for future applications.
"We envision those shape-changing materials will be embedded into the component itself," said Roudaut. "You would be able to have all the layers of the screen, the touch sensors and the actuator sensor all together, blending into a single material."
Giving mobile devices more affordance -- or the capability of an object to tell you how it wants to be used -- motivates such ambitions. Roudaut says to consider the shape of a doorknob, which intuitively suggests a cupped hand will turn, push and/or pull it.
"Right now, mobile phones have no affordance, they're just these rectangular flat screens," she said. "We need to reintroduce a bit of this affordance and give these devices more shapes that speak to their functionality."
Researchers also created a "shape resolution" metric that adds to the "screen resolution" and "touch resolution" specifications of current mobile devices. Their metric features ten principles that gauge a flexible screen's ability to stretch, bend, close, and curve, just to name four. Much like we shop for smartphones with screens with high-pixel displays, researchers believe their metric will help inform future consumers when they buy their first shape-shifting mobile device.