What witchcraft is this?

Column “Dork Talk” published on Saturday January 19th 2008 in The Guardian
“Motorola U9: What witchcraft is this? – The Guardian headline

It is as if you were looking at a perfectly ordinary spectacles case that suddenly decided to show you a television programme.

I’m reviewing the Motorola U9 phone today. It is a shiny clamshell in the old Motorola PEBL style, not unlike a soap holder in shape and feel. It has all the usual features, being a quad-band GSM phone with EDGE and GPRS for WAP and other data uses, and equipped with a 2 megapixel camera, Bluetooth 2.0 and the familiar flat and sexy Motorola keypad. The model I am using is that gorgeous violet colour Cadbury used for the foil on its Dairy Milk bars years ago. This is a perfect handbag phone: entirely cute, entirely serviceable. There’s a calendar, a music player, Java games, templates and snazzy screensavers; it is very lightweight and has a good battery. Altogether a perfectly fine, well designed, reasonably eye-catching but frankly unremarkable phone. We move on now, surely?


But wait! The U9 has two displays. Open the clamshell and there’s the usual LCD screen, bright and clear, but close it and there’s a screensaver flickering in the surface of the lid. Well, yes, but we’ve all seen that, too, haven’t we, a small window or secondary screen on the cover of a phone? So what’s new?

What is new is that there is no secondary screen; the whole exterior of the phone is pure glossy violet plastic, giving no hint of display capability. The image appears to be going on somehow inside the very surface of the plastic cover. What’s more, if I close the phone while playing a track, a music player now appears – a touch-sensitive music player at that. It is as if you are looking at a perfectly ordinary spectacles case that suddenly decides to show you a television programme and allows you to change channels by touching it. What witchcraft is this?

Welcome to the world of OLED. You may well have heard that there is a new kind of display technology in the offing, and this is it. Organic Light Emitting Diodes will slowly be replacing Liquid Crystal Displays over the next decade. At the moment much of the technology is owned by Eastman Kodak and some of the big players have been reluctant to pay the licences required to use it (see oled-info.com/tags/companies/kodak, but gradually more and more products are coming to market. Sony and Samsung both have OLED televisions ready to spring on the world and Nokia’s new Prism and 8800 Arte phones also feature the technology.

OLED, which sandwiches stacks of light-emitting layers of polymers to form ultra-thin displays, has the remarkable potential to be incorporated into fabric and the lightest of materials, famously raising the prospect of roll-up monitors, a new generation of electronic paper, and a world in which displays can be seen everywhere, in coffee mugs, handbags and neckties; in underwear, shop counters and car doors. OLED, which doesn’t need a backlight, has the advantage of being bright enough to be readable in sunlight, while using less power than LCD. Applications range from holography to 3D video by way of every kind of display currently using LCD, LED, Plasma and CRT. It is even viable as a solid, low-consumption light source. Combine it with the accelerometers that have given the iPhone and the Wii such cachet this year, and a whole new world of human interface possibilities dances in our delirious imaginations.

There is a long way to go yet: OLED technology, although hardly in its infancy, faces problems. Typically the displays last a fraction of the lifetime of LED and LCD, and the patent issue continues to hold back some developers and corporations. But good on Motorola for coming up with a touch-sensitive OLED consumer mobile at this stage of the game.

If you want a sweet little phone that causes eyes to pop and mouths to drop, then the U9 is for you. If you can wait a few years… well, one drools. One positively drools.

© Stephen Fry 2008

This blog was posted in Guardian column

45 comments on “What witchcraft is this?”

  1. Mwongozi says:

    I heard you broke your arm!

    Get well soon, and I hope it doesn’t affect your typing too much. Google for “FrogPad” – it’s a keyboard especially designed for one-handed typing. Useful for broken arms and porn.

  2. Jess says:

    Oh dear, Stephen. There I was, feeling positively smug about not having– never having– a mobile, up till I read this post. Now I want one. Oh dear oh dear oh dear.

    Wishing you a speedy arm recovery!

  3. dark_maylee says:

    When I first saw that cell phone, I thought my eyes were doing funny tricks. It’s very pretty, but after seeing my phone go through the washing machine and still working (nearly) perfectly, I’m pretty attached to my Samsung Anycall. Then again, I don’t know a lot about phones, so when one of my friends talks about her new SLVR or… whatever… I’m pretty much a fool in the conversation.

    And I read about your arm. Hope it heals quickly.

  4. ysabella says:

    Hah! I had to look up the broken arm, and found one news source referring to “known British actor Stephen Fry.” I suppose that’s better than “suspected British actor Stephen Fry.”

    Gloriosky, that’s a neat phone.

  5. west_haven says:

    Ouch! Sorry about the arm, Mr. Fry – hope it’s an easy fix. I’d say “rest up” but I don’t think you ever do.

    At some point, it seems they’re going to have to come up with a new name for these devices . . . ‘phone’ just doesn’t seem to do it, anymore.

    Great column, btw – a lovely read flowing with your distinctive voice – and you’ve moved two people (mine own self & jess above) to the heights of acquisitive greed! Ummm, thank you . . .

  6. ghd says:

    Sorry to hear about the arm – best of luck for a speedy recovery.

  7. robertas says:

    Mr. Fry really do not give me ideas… :)

    And so sorry about your arm, what on Earth happened? Ok just found an article, I dare to say it was a case of rampaging sea cow however that seems highly unlikely, but it would be a good story to tell :) … well nothing for it but plenty of rest Mr. Fry rest you know – when you put your feet up, drink plenty of tea, watch the telly and let people fuss over you… rest!

    On the good side though at least its not hot, having a cast on when its hot is murder, I would borrow you my grandma’s knitting needle for those hard to reach spots that get itchy… :)
    I wish you speedy recovery and mind that arm.

  8. Roobarb says:

    Dear Mr Fry, Hopefully your arm is feeling much better already. I read about your mishap on the BBC Entertainment News page. You’ve been bumped from the top of the page by Vera Duckworth. I feel a strongly worded letter may be called for….

    I was sent a new phone today, and was just enjoying the shiny newness of it all with its little gubbins and whatnots in plastic bags, and colour coded menus. All the wonder of a new piece of kit. But now, you’ve introduced me to something even more spangly, and my poor Samsng G600 seems less interesting, tarnished almost, when I’ve only just peeled the clear plastic protective film from the screen (why do people leave these on phones, or plastic covers on their car seats?). And what is more, I read the article which drops this little bombshell before I realised that it is from TODAY’S Grauniad, which means that special little treat (ie sitting down with a glass of wine and your column) that I save for myself at the very end of reading the whole paper, even after Living With Teenagers, has been wrenched away from me too. But that’s not your fault, it’s all mine for being awake at this time of the morning smurfing the interweb.

    I want a new phone now. Hope your arm gets better quick smart.


  9. Xeronimo says:

    That’s absolutely frigging amazing!? I’m usually not the gadget-type of guy but this looks really cool. Can’t wait for other appliances to use this …

  10. Christa says:

    I must say that I have a terrible resistance to phones that are gadgets, mostly because I believe that phones should be….phones :)
    However, when they go from pretending being a phone to handheld computers, it is a different story entirely.
    Because I cannot resist a computer of any kind.

    And phones are more computers than anything these days.

    Did someone mentioned chocolate btw? ;)

    And take good care of that arm :)

  11. zfiledh says:

    Oh, that OLED screen–would be a scream to have this! I’ve been a Nokia gal for far too long, I think. I’ll be saving up for this phone.

    Sorry to hear about your recent injury. Take care!

  12. MattR says:

    For one fleeting moment, I had a vision of Stephen Fry, resplendent in a smoking jacket and cravat, listening the ‘The Duchess’ by Fergie.

    ‘The Princess is here!’

    Sorry to hear about the arm – really enjoying Kingdom at the moment

    Lovely phone by the way – very shiny.

  13. Sorry to hear about the accident, old chap. Hope the break is easily fixed. Perhaps now is the time to test drive some of that voice recognition technology to save you from the perils of one-handed typing.

  14. Avalo says:

    Sorry to hear you broke your arm, but when you return to Tefe make sure you go down to the market by the water’s edge and get an Avocado juice, I’ve never seen them elsewhere and it works surprisingly well.

  15. Little MV says:

    Are these created to be sensitive to the touch of a finger specifically? That would be a problem for people like me who guard all their electronics by holding them in their pockets all day long. But very interesting technology indeed.

    Like everyone else has said, so sorry about your arm! I hope you feel much better.

  16. amyl_nitrate says:

    Sorry to hear about our broken arm. :( Take the opportunity to rest and enjoy being pampered and fussed over by everyone else. I hope your arm mends soon.

    Pretty phone btw. Pretty as in it looks and sounds a dream. Sony’s mp3 players use OLED screens. They’re very cool. At first glance when you pick it up it looks just like plain old shiny black plastic and no sign of a screen, press a button and glowing writing appears. It’s really bright too. :D

  17. wow it does sound like damn good phone, and OLED is exciting in a lovely nerdy way =]
    and also hope your arm’s better soon =]
    much love xx

  18. drumzauni says:

    ..but anyway…its a phone and that´s final… =)

    ..if we call some day with our teeth..yeah that would be a amazing thing..

    …but I have to admit that the colour is nice =)

    Best wishes from Germany

  19. shawrie777 says:

    Two questions:
    1. How much is it?
    2. Where can i get one?

  20. AxmxZ says:

    You’re right. That is witchery. Wow. I can’t stop looking at it. It’s so beautiful.

    Times like this I really, really look forward to living in the ‘future’. The materials on our horizon boggle the mind. They’re going to glow, shimmer, repare themselves, absorb solar energy… yow.

  21. Minty says:

    Such a lovely and humourous entry, thanks Mr Fry. What have you been doing out there in Brazil? I hope not your own stunts! I do hope the arm heals quickly. Must confess I feared therewould be a delay in this weeks blog entry due to your injury. Take care

    Hugs Minty xxx

  22. AxmxZ says:

    Holy everything, just read about your arm. Best wishes and speedy healing!!

  23. xugglybug says:

    As aesthetically lovely as it is (and as a fellow Mac user, I do love my shiny things…), it is a Motorola, and thus technologically inferior to a lot of mobiles still. I’ll be getting a Nokia N-series when my contract expires.

  24. BrianP says:

    So sorry to hear of your injury. Get well soon.

  25. bailey says:

    Wish you could have a virtual cast for us all to sign. Hope you have a speedy recovery. Take care of yourself.

  26. I have an ancient mobile which my partner gave to me when he had run it over with the works van, dropped it in water and covered it in oil. It is so dated I think its cool, well at least I did until yesterday when I read Dork Talk, damn the pesky U9, a curse on the Motorola kids and their wizzy gadgetry.
    Sorry to hear you have broken your arm, but I suspect you are rather cheered up by the thought that you are only slightly less important in the entertainment ratings than Vera Duckworth.

  27. Sorry to be such a bother, but am I the only one who noticed the unclosed parenthesis in the 4th paragraph? It’s giving me quite the nasty little twitch, over here on my end of the interweb.
    Another hilarious post, Mr.Fry. I wish you would grace us all with another blessay. Perhaps something witty? (Not sure if that’s your style.)

  28. juniperblue says:

    In the words of the ridiculous I Can Haz Cheezburger… “DO WANT”. That phone is beautiful, now where can I get one…?

    Hope your arm heals quickly and you have a suitably impressive plaster cast.

  29. livvyloves says:

    Although this phone does look quite modern, I hate to apologise that I find Motorola phones awkward and generally difficult to use. As a Mac user myself, I automatically opted for the iPhone, and ever since I eventually ordered one last month I consider it the best phone for business purposes.
    The design of this doesn’t seem quite so practical, but I have to admit it does appear to be quite an impressive phone.
    I read about your arm yesterday, and I wish you good health!
    Love Livvy

  30. Zazou says:

    Thought I’d take the opportunity of the commercial break in Kingdom to wish you a speedy recovery from your broken arm. You silly sausage!

  31. Anya says:

    I am so sorry about your arm! Get well, Mr. Fry! Thank you very much for everything you are doing. Best wishes from Russia.

  32. MaureenC says:

    Oh, dear! Ouch! Again, I must echo the wish for a speedy recovery,and hope that The Guardian will wait a couple of weeks before demanding a column about speech-recognition software.

  33. HeidiW says:

    I’ve needed a new phone for about a year now, but if you say wait for the even better phone, I shall wait.

    Is that your music playlist shown, Stephen? Are you announcing to the world that you, in fact, listen to Fergie?

    Oh, and best wishes for your arm. Hopefully it won’t impede your writing. It is the highlight of my Friday (or whenever I get around to checking it). Yes, I do need a life.

  34. chaz says:

    I suppose the key question at the moment is can you use it one handed? Hope the arm gets better quickly. At least you now have an excuse to take a bit of break and settle down with a pot of tea and a stack of Georgette Heyer novels.
    Take care.

  35. t0m says:

    This is a neat looking phone, but OLED really has been around for yonks. Back in 2004 I had a Samsung E700 with an external OLED display. No touch screen, and not as pretty as this Motorola, but OLED nonetheless ;)

  36. JSKanga84 says:

    A good handbag phone, you say? Hmmm. Does that mean I should be able to find the thing easily when it rings? I’m the champion of losing my phone in a bag the size of a matchbox.
    Anyway, unlike most technology reviews, this was surprisingly helpful. Thanks.

  37. nickhoggard says:

    Mr Fry obviously missed the Sony Ericsson Z610 http://tinyurl.com/2tabal when it came out a year ago. Same metallic pink colour, same see-through-the-casing display, same handbag-friendly clamshell design. Just a year earlier than the Motorola.

    It looks like Motorola copied the Sony Ericsson straight off.

    Did I mention that the Sony Ericsson came out a year earlier?


    It’s weird– I’m a sucker for HAVING IT ALL in my phone, at any cost. But then when these all-singing all-dancing fashion-fowns drop (like the Luna), my jaw seems to drop right along with them…. no wait, I’VE FIGURED IT OUT!

    The issue here is actually that most smartphone geeks such as myself ARE those geeks because of (ultimately) romantic idea of being able to cram in EVERYTHING into our phones! Correspondingly, the fashion-fown promises the (also romantic) sensibility of ‘not needing anything except SIMPLICITY’.

    So you see, us geeks may be like cold-hearted-snakes on the surface (don’t mind if I do, Paula), but really we’re just a bunch of cuddly bears who want to take our lovely wives out for expensive meals on Valentine’s Day.

  39. redherring says:

    I was reading through you old blessays and I came across your recent eco-rant. I think you have hit upon the single most important point in the whole thing- the betting game, where type A has nothing to lose and type B everything. I have been using that tactic myself for a long time in debates. I also thought I would drop you the most revealing statistic in the whole Inconvenient Truth film, vis:

    In the popular media opinions and articles are split about 60-40 belief-disbelief, but among PEER REVIEWED publications (that is to say publications run by and edited by actual scientists rather than Time Warner or whatever) there is an almost 100 percent consensus that global warming is real and will have devastating consequences.

    Just thought I would give you another point with which to smite the unbelievers.
    lady DOT whimsey AT gmail DOT com

  40. hoopy says:

    Oh, are you a Georgette Heyer fan? I love you even more now. It’s hard to describe her virtues to people who’ve never read anything like her, but she is superb and to think that you’ve been a fan for as long as I have makes me feel all warm and squooshy inside. Maybe you can somehow get a film adaptation happening from one of her books? There has been one before but it was just crap, apparently. She’s worth adapting, there’s no doubt of that. Plus also, I’m sorry to hear about your arm and hope that you feel capable of typing soon; I’ve missed your blessays.

  41. oboogie says:

    Nice phone. I liked my original PEBL, but this is even better. However, I’ll just stick with my pretty little iPhone for now.

    I hope your arm heals soon, Stephen! Take care!

  42. Susan P. says:

    After having skimmed down through the articles I admit I am feeling doltish. I am yet to choose whether to remain feeling doltish, whether to say bah humbug to the array of technophile information that my brain refuses to absorb, or whether to just share how I view mobile phones (which will pull away from the intent of your article). The latter being so much easier and truer to who I am is my choice.

    I want a phone that makes texting easy and that enables me to receive and make calls in awkward areas. Anything after this is really a bonus. I tell myself how great it would be to have a camera feature but I have NO instinctive response to technology at all (thus knowing how to use a camera feature doesn’t enter my brainspace naturally) and am not sure whether I would ever actually have cause to use the camera; however, all this said, one always hopes to be at ‘that-spot-at-the-right-time-and-place’ and ready to capture that award winning image.

    So, text, calls and some nebulous desire for images.

    I don’t see phones as fashion statements so colours per se don’t worry me one jot as long as I can read the numbers/letters on the keys (some colours perform badly in this area).

    I don’t see phones as items that decry my place in the world and I don’t need to invade others space by loud conversations that draw momentarily confused looks wondering – is the person speaking to me?

    In contradiction, I occasionally ponder how novel it might be to swank around with an earpiece with an air of “I am pivotal to some ‘thing’ and must always be contactable”.

    Reading another’s interest in the finer details of phone choice is fascinating but I feel pedestrian and, at the end of the day, wonder how much these fine details really impact on the lives of the majority. Perhaps I am underestimating.

  43. Susan P. says:

    Albeit I was honest in my expression, I am feeling contrite. It IS somewhat of a spoiler for someone with my mindset to post a response to such a blog article. My apologetic feeling is more about a potential implication in my post wording that any person who really does care about the tech details is a ‘poseur’. That can’t logically be the case for all and I do regret the implication as stated.

    My son – currently in NY – did however offer a nice phrase today when I attempted to discuss tabs in Firefox:
    “Stephen Fry is not your helpdesk”

    Yes, I know.

  44. jeroenmoons says:

    That’s really cool, I am really looking forward to all the new applications of this technology!

    By the way Stephen, I saw the pictures of your arm, that really does look nasty…
    Get well soon!!

    Greetings and best wishes from Belgium

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