CES: See-through screens - gimmick or instant gadget love?

Samsung shows prototype at trade show, while users question usefulness of transparent screen

Forget 3-D TVs. The next big wave to rush down the display tech pipeline are laptops and handheld gadgets with transparent OLED screens.

At CES 2010, Samsung Electronics showed off a prototype laptop with a 14-in. see-through color OLED screen. According to Engadget, the screen is up to 40% transparent when turned off (compared with 25% for other displays).

That laptop may not be ready for market, but Samsung also announced the IceTouch media player with a transparent OLED touch screen. Users can control it by tapping on the back of the screen, allowing them to continue watching videos on the 2-in. color screen.

 Samsung's IceTouch media player
Samsung's IceTouch media player

Available in the first half of this year, the IceTouch will hold 16GB of music or movies. It will come only in white, though users can customize the color via skins sold separately. No price was announced.

Samsung's news comes after last month's announcement of Sony Ericsson's pricey Xperia Pureness smartphone. Engadget called it basically a "$30 prepaid candybar" phone lacking key modern phone features such as a camera or high-resolution display, but it was impressed with the device's "wild transparent display" that it said will leave potential buyers "smitten or confused and dismayed by the $1,000 sticker price."

So will early adopters, influenced by the technology shown on TV and movies (see clip starting at 1:37 of the trailer for the upcoming movie Date Night), embrace transparent screens enough for prices to fall and the technology to become mainstream?

Sony Ericsson's Xperia Pureness smartphone
Sony Ericsson's Xperia Pureness smartphone

Engadget readers, who make up just such a demographic, were split on the usefulness of transparent screens such as the Samsung laptop.

"Why would one even want their monitor to be transparent? Isn't it annoying enough when you're stuck seeing your reflection on your glossy monitor when you're looking at a dark image?" wrote Solidstate89. "Hooray for more distractions in your viewing monitor!"

"It's for hit-men, so they can surf the net, watch the target and see danger coming," joked another reader, One Love.

"This is so PIMP!! I love it!" wrote Hyperspaced.

Some readers suggested that the transparent glass would be more useful embedded in car windshields, where they could be used to pop up relevant information for drivers on the fly, or on a point-of-sale register, so that a cashier and customer could see each other.

Eric Lai covers Windows and Linux, desktop applications, databases and business intelligence for Computerworld. Follow Eric on Twitter at @ericylai, send e-mail to elai@computerworld.com or subscribe to Eric's RSS feed .

At the CES trade show, Samsung Electronics shows its prototype laptop with a 14-in. see-through color OLED screen. Click arrow button to play video. (Adobe Flash is required. Some browsers may require two clicks to start the video.)

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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