We’ve come to an age where nothing is impossible to imagine, especially when it comes to technology.. Even the most random insignificant idea can literally shake us when we experience the outcome.
Read this report by Kyle Vanhemert
Screens are rectangles. Even the 3-year-old playing with your iPad could tell you that. But what would the digital world look like through a different sort of frame? Say… a circular one?
Monohm, a startup based in Berkeley, California, was founded around this very idea. For the last year, the three-person team has been working a circular, palm-sized device dubbed Runcible.
They cheekily refer to it as the “anti-smartphone,” a description that goes for both its form factor and its value system.
The round device is meant to be the antidote to our feed-obsessed, notification-saturated digital existence. It’s a challenge to the rectangular status quo and everything it represents. That’s a quixotic dream, but an interesting one.
Different Rectangles, Different Effects
Display technologies have a long and rectangular history. Before smartphones there were movie screens, TVs, and computers, not to mention paintings and pages of print. And then of course there are windows—in some ways the original glass rectangles.
In each case, the rectangle’s prominence can be attributed in large part to practicality. Whether you’re talking about film or glass or stone, rectangles are easy to make. They don’t leave much wasted material.
As frames for shaping the world, however, different types of rectangles can produce vastly different effects.
Smartphones, with their slender, touch-controlled displays, have become a distinctly more active rectangle. Paired with the never-ending vertical feeds that fill apps like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, they’ve become an irresistible, inexhaustible diversion.
The point is this: Frames matter. They suggest certain things about how we should approach them. They shape the type of stuff that’s made for them. And if just turning a rectangle on its side can make such a big difference, imagine all the interesting things that might happen if you left the rectangle behind altogether.
Starting to Think Outside the Frame
Runcible is just one scrappy, literal attempt to abandon the rectangle. But similar thinking is happening elsewhere. Android Wear, Google’s smartwatch operating system, reconsiders what apps should look like on a tiny circular display.
Apple Watch is in some ways another rectangle, but its real estate is limited enough that it will also encourage new, less rectangular thinking. (Note how its home screen ditches iPhone’s grid of icons for a blob of circular ones. Also note the recent rise of circular avatars over the traditional square ones in apps and interfaces of all kinds).
Here, the screen is less of a window, more of a lens. The only frame is your field of vision.
Rectangles will endure. They’re easy, they’re efficient. But as new components and manufacturing techniques make it easier to experiment with other forms, we’ll likely find people exploring the unique effects they can produce.
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