Researchers at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., say they've developed a bendable smartphone that could presage the future of computing.

They call the ReFlex the world's first full-colour, high-resolution and wireless flexible smartphone that combines multi-touch technology — which allows a touch screen to recognize multiple points of contact with its surface — with "bend input."

Essentially, the phone can be controlled by bending its flexible screen

"I think the world of human-computer interaction is going to be turned upside down with this," said Roel Vertegaal, the director of the Human Media Lab at Queen's.

"The real innovation is that we can now start thinking about computer science and software and interaction as a three-dimensional thing."

The Human Media Lab, along with Vertegaal's team at the Queen's Media Lab, didn't invent the flexible screen — but they are using it to help them imagine the future of computers.

"We take those screens and we then think about what can we do with these in terms of human-computer interaction," said Vertegaal.

"Our role is to influence manufacturers [by saying] 'Hey, we could use it for this, we could use it for that! Can you change the engineering so that that's possible?'"

Could eliminate rings or beeps

The eight-person team has adapted the screen to a prototype phone that can be flexed in the same way a book is bent to allow pages to be turned.

It's that ability, Vertegaal said, that opens the door to new possibilities for what computers can accomplish.

"Once your screen is bendable, it means it might also be deformed by the phone itself," said Vertegaal.

"And we have built phones, working prototypes of a phone, that wiggles a corner when it receives a message so as to notify you without a ring or beep"

On market within 5 years?

Vertegaal compares the imaginative work of the Media Lab to that which ushered in the age of portable computing.

"That's no different from what Alan Kay did when the LCD came out of RCA in 1968. He thought, 'Oh, well, what does this mean for human-computer interaction?" he said.

"And he invented the [concept of the] iPad in 1972 and wrote a paper about it."

Bendable, flexible smartphones like ReFlex could be in the hands of consumers within five years, Vertegaal predicts.