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Anorexic Display Devices (Guest Post)

This opinion was contributed by Norman Hairston, a consultant to the display industry. You may find his blog at

"You can never be too rich or too thin.”

Attributed to Wallis Simpson (1896-1986) Wife of Edward, Duke of Windsor, formerly King Edward VIII

Thinness is a distinct advantage when it means reduction of layers and consolidation, especially in the display. The new in-cell touch screens in the iPhone take out a layer. Every layer in a display adds two surfaces and each surface can usually be counted on to contribute 4% in surface reflections that reduce sunlight viewability and image contrast in general. Much of the visual improvement from the iPhone 4 to the iPhone 5 can be attributed to this feature.

I've seen several studies that say that, for notebooks, consumers care a lot about weight but care much less about thickness as long as it is below one inch. Although the MacBook Air was greeted with great fanfare, the high price tag and lack of optical drive for that point in time lead to disappointing sales. Ultrabooks have likewise met a similar response. I've not seen similar data for cell phones, but I imagine that there is a similar threshold where consumers care much less about incremental thickness reduction. However, thin devices are much harder to engineer, so those companies with the most advanced technology like to promote thinness in order to advance their competitive advantage.

There are no inherent disadvantages to being ever thinner but sometimes the things that are done to make devices thin are inherently unhealthy for the device. The anodized aluminum casing for the new iPhone® is undoubtedly there to enable an incremental reduction in thickness. But the scratching issue that has emerged should have been anticipated given the nature of the material. Though the maker took great pains to protect the optics of the device with a Gorilla Glass® layer over the screen and a sapphire window over the camera lens, the pareto for protecting the cosmetics from scratching must have fallen below the priority for thinness.

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