How Glass Is Enabling Today’s Most Powerful Trends

Design and application

Design and Application

Design and Application

How Glass Is Enabling Today’s Most Powerful Trends

How Glass Is Enabling Today’s Most Powerful Trends

In the highly connected, interactive world of today – and certainly in the one we’ll live in tomorrow – everyday surfaces are taking on extraordinary capabilities.

Suddenly your refrigerator door becomes a touchscreen that helps organize your daily schedule. Your family room wall becomes an integrated entertainment center, letting you immerse yourself in streaming videos, games, and interactive chats while managing seamlessly integrated online tasks. A storefront connects to an app on your phone and offers you individual discounts and product information, all before you set foot inside.

That’s what glass can enable – whether you’re driving to work, relaxing at home, or having the best shopping experience of your life.

Let’s take a look at some of the ways advanced glass surfaces are making this futuristic vision a reality today.

Retail Window

Retail Window

The Trend:

Omnichannel marketing is dominating the strategy of many of the world’s top retailers.

It’s much more than a buzzword. Retailers are keenly aware that today’s consumers rely more and more on their smartphones to look up prices and product information, even as they’re strolling around the store.

And research indicates that many consumers now prefer to avoid in-store sales clerks, favoring instead the unmanned digital displays and interactive kiosks to assist them.

Retailers now face the challenge of making the shopping experience smooth and seamless between all these channels.

The store’s brand impression must be consistent and self-reinforcing, whether consumers are launching a store app on their mobile device, viewing a product use video that suddenly appears on a storefront, or sorting through accessory options from a touch display on a dressing room mirror.

Because the tech-savvy consumers are leading the trend, many retailers (more than a third in a recent study by SPS Commerce) feel they are lagging behind in developing their omnichannel strategies.

Yet the pressure is mounting for retailers and big-brand product marketers to jump into the omnichannel race.

Simply put: The retailers who provide the best shopping experience will earn the most loyal customers and the most consistent revenues.

Why Glass Is Making It Possible:

Great appearance and fast, consistent performance are essential with public displays like a showroom kiosk or smart storefront. That’s hard to maintain in an environment of constant bumps and thumps from feet, hands, shopping carts, strollers, and metal-studded handbags.

Today’s durable glass can handle this punishing activity with ease. It’s highly resistant to scratches and other damage that can quickly ruin other transparent materials like polymers. This tough specialty glass helps ensure that interactive retail displays will gleam and glisten like new, even after years of use.

Specialty glass is also relatively lightweight, which helps cut shipping and installation costs. Antimicrobial properties are available to help allay concerns about microbes that might otherwise be passed from user to use in a store setting. Special coatings and other finishing processes can eliminate glare and distracting reflections on retail displays, even in bright sunlight.

Perhaps best of all, glass – more than any other material – offers pure optical transparency. That means consumers can enjoy the brilliant colors and fast-moving videos associated with the brands they love without any clouding or dulling of the experience.

And that’s exactly what visionary retailers are going for.

Kitchen Hub

Kitchen Hub

The Trend:

The kitchen has always been the heart of the home. And the refrigerator, in turn, is the heart of the kitchen.

Who hasn’t used the refrigerator door as the family bulletin board, art gallery, and can’t-miss-it message center?

Consumers who have grown up leaving notes and displaying photos on the fridge aren’t likely to abandon the custom, even as they embrace trends of clean, sleek, highly modern lines in their kitchen design.

For the humble refrigerator, this means a whole new identity is forming. Appliance designers envision a smart refrigerator surface with interactive displays tying together household members’ emails, reminders, and other data to help them manage their lives. A sleek marker board surface could quickly capture handwritten notes and send them digitally to a mobile device or printer.

To add to the visual appeal, features and backgrounds can change according to season, special occasion, or just on a whim – all with a smooth, clean aesthetic.

Why Glass Is Making It Possible:

A high-performance display like that on a smart refrigerator door requires complex electronic circuitry and lighting applied to several layers of specialized substrates. Also essential: a tough, brilliantly clear cover.

For decades, glass – with a thermal and dimensional stability far surpassing that of other materials -- has set the standard for LCD substrates. Display technologies have evolved to include more and more challenging manufacturing conditions.

New generations of highly specialized substrate glass have enabled all these advancements. The glass has become so slim that large smart surfaces are now available in total packages less than a half-inch thick.

And as with all interactive technologies, a great touch experience is essential. A pristine cover glass makes for quick, effortless swiping and customizing. New chemically strengthened glass covers stand up well to the everyday bumps and splatters of the busy kitchen environment. And some specialized surfaces make it easier than ever to keep clean.

With glass, the refrigerator door can transform from a cluttered catch-all to a sleek, connected, highly functional surface, easily customized to connect with everything and everyone in the house.

Infotainment Wall

Infotainment Wall

The Trend:

One of the hottest trends for tech-savvy consumers is the use of dual and multiple entertainment screens. Why? Viewing choices are now so vast, viewers don’t want to be restricted to just one or two.

But with today’s home-design trend of sleek, contemporary lines, the notion of several separate flat-panel TVs mounted on the wall doesn’t quite cut it anymore. Instead, design trend-setters are leaning toward the single, large screen – often referred to as an immersion wall – that serves as a comprehensive home media center.

From the comfort of the couch, it’s easy to manage room temperatures and lighting throughout the house, check emails and family calendars, stream a movie, and keep an eye on a sporting event -- all on a single floor-to-ceiling interactive wall with brilliant resolution and top-quality audio.

Why Glass Is Making It Possible:

Sheer size is one of the first enabling factors of glass in a high-performance immersion wall.

Not so many years ago, the largest LCD panels weren’t much bigger than the typical oven door. Today, manufacturers can create thin, perfect specialty glass for displays that are far larger than anything previously imagined.

Today’s thin, large-sized glass is perfect for a wide variety of specialty display applications. Some new glass compositions lend themselves to curved TV panels without compromising readability. And the glass sheets are getting thinner all the time, helping to keep displays lightweight and versatile as well as reducing shipping costs.

Glass plays into other aesthetic features, too. Thin strands of glass fiber are now available to lend colorful outlines to panel frames and control panels.

With constant innovation in glass technologies, designers have more options than ever before as they create home management and entertainment systems on single integrated screens.

Collaboration Surface

Collaboration Surface

The Trend:

To compete in a high-tech world, innovative businesses are bringing their best people to the table. And what’s making them more effective than ever? The table itself.

Multi-touch displays let workers collaborate around sleek interactive surfaces. With simple touches and swipes, colleagues can view high-resolution videos, analyze data, gather research, or plan a new design with a multitude of visual options.

What’s more, they can connect with teammates or customers in other locations. This extends the collaborative environment to a host of other devices and platforms through new cloud-based collaboration tools.

The social collaboration phenomenon is also growing quickly in schools, governments, and even the home. And it’s shattering the notion that a conference table is a place to sit and listen.

Instead, dynamic surfaces create an inclusive environment in which everyone can be directly involved in solving a problem – right now.

Why Glass Is Making It Possible:

Certainly, tough and optically brilliant glass is essential to the touch interface that makes these collaborative work surfaces beautiful and fun to use. But the work surfaces must also be able to draw in rich, high-resolution data from a wide variety of sources.

So once again, it’s glass – in the form of hair-thin optical fiber – that enables the experience.

Let’s take a look at the role this highly engineered glass plays in bringing the world to your tabletop.

Even at its inception in 1970, mass-produced glass fiber – stripped of even the microscopic impurities that might interfere with light signals – could transmit data far more quickly than its copper wire counterpart. Telecommunications companies found it ideal for their long-haul networks that soon became the backbone of the Internet.

Today, more than 2 billion kilometers of optical fiber make up the world’s telecommunications network. Even with wireless connections that can send signals to your device from a connected tower, those signals can only travel up to a few miles – so the vast majority of today’s voice, video, and data still zooms through optical fiber.

And innovations in glass science are yielding new generations of high-speed, high-capacity fiber to meet the demands of today’s network applications.

Optical fiber is now tougher than ever. It can be bent around tight corners and stapled onto wall studs. It’s stronger than both high-tensile steel and titanium.

Capacity is also remarkable. A single long-haul strand can support up to 2 million simultaneous high-definition video streams.

More great news for teammates at work, home, and school: New fiber innovations are enabling faster-than-ever optical connections between computers, operating systems, gaming consoles, tablets, and more.

When collaborators are truly connected, they’re connected with glass.

Connected Car

Connected Car

The Trend:

Auto designers are creating car interiors that reflect the same sophisticated, high-technology experience many drivers favor in other aspects of their lives.

Dashboards, once a collection of buttons and knobs, have become sleek, uncluttered interactive surfaces. With some cars now equipped to be rolling WiFi hotspots, drivers and passengers want to enjoy mobile and music devices as easily as they check navigational systems and maintain comfortable temperatures.

And while performance is important, today’s carbuyers know what sort of aesthetic they’re after, too: A high-tech look that still maintains a warm, human quality. Light grays and tans, tone-on-tone combinations, and even touches of woodgrain and leather all combine to create an inviting space.

These contemporary interiors give car designers a place to stand out from their competitors, creating a unique brand identity and perception of value. At the same time, automakers are looking to reduce weight at every turn – a sure way to meet ever-tightening governmental restrictions on fuel economy.

Why Glass Is Making It Possible:

Today’s thin, durable glass is one of the first materials automakers are adopting to meet all these developing trends.

Interactive glass surfaces on car consoles have the same optical brilliance and scratch resistance that consumers have come to enjoy on their personal electronic devices.

A console with an advanced-glass cover does more than provide a single centralized touchpoint for display screens and in-car controls. It can also let a driver instantly customize background images, framing readouts with a futuristic neon glow or classic woodtones with the touch of a finger.

Adding glass surfaces can also help automakers improve fuel efficiency. As glass innovators have made the material tougher over recent years, they’re also making it much thinner and more lightweight. That’s why it’s become an indispensable component in mobile electronics, and it’s now why automakers are incorporating it not only into dashboards, but into windows and sunroofs, too. In fact, swapping traditional soda-lime glass and laminates for today’s lighter-weight glass alternatives in windshields, side windows, and sunroofs can trim up to 20 kilograms — about 45 pounds — from the overall weight of an average vehicle.

It all adds up to an opulent, streamlined auto that’s ready to meet tough consumer expectations while it uses less fuel on the road.

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