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Are transparent displays dumb or brilliant?

February 2, 2013 07:00 AM ET

Most users won't be willing to sacrifice image quality and battery life for the novelty of transparent displays.

Why transparent displays have a bright future

Transparent display technology is coming, just not to phones and tablets.

Rather than transforming computer screens by making them transparent, this technology will instead transform transparent things into computer screens.

For example, it will be applied to windows. No, not Microsoft Windows. I'm talking about the glass windows we have in our offices, cars and homes.

Samsung actually sells a transparent display device. Called the Samsung NL22B, the $2,805.99 device is an aquarium-like box with regular glass on the sides, a transparent display on the front, a lockable door on the back and a PC built into the base. It's designed for display marketing, whereby a store places its product (or whatever) into the box, then uses Samsung's MagicInfo software to display moving words and pictures on the transparent screen.

Other companies, including Crystal Display Systems, have shown similar products recently.

Even more interesting is the touch-based Smart Window that Samsung demonstrated at the International CES trade show last month. In the demo, the display is placed in front of a mini cityscape, suggesting that it could be installed as a window in your office. It basically just throws up a Windows-like desktop on the window.

It's easy to imagine incorporating this technology into a home, as the makers of the Iron Man movies did.

Transparent display technology will be used in eyewear, such as glasses, goggles and scuba masks, enabling reality to be augmented. It is one of those exciting areas of innovation where science fiction is about to become very real, very soon.

Just don't expect transparent screens in your phones or tablets. Because while that idea yields beautiful design fiction pictures and videos, it makes for a lousy mobile device.

writes about technology and tech culture. You can contact Mike and learn more about him on Google+. You can also see more articles by Mike Elgan on Computerworld.com.

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