You've got to hand it to LG. Of all the publicity stunts we might have predicted, taking over a bakery in Pangyo (a city nicknamed the Silicon Valley of Korea) and filling it with 38 Transparent OLED displays would not have been high on the list. OK it definitely wouldn't be on the list.
But here we are, and the flagship Paris Baguette eatery (for that is the bakery chain's name) is now home to various types of giant, transparent 55-inch OLED signage panels, the largest number of such OLEDs ever at a single site.
The aim, of course, is a state-of-the-art bakery and an entirely new shopping experience. But is it though? Is it?
Opinion: transparent OLEDs are a solution to a problem that never existed
There, I've said it. Have you ever sat back on your couch and thought, "You know, I wish I could see through my TV to the wall behind it?" Yes, I know that LG would have us put them in the middle of the room. I have always thought the very idea of near bezel-less transparent OLEDs in the center of your lounge are an accident waiting to happen, unless content is constantly being shown on them – and given the cost of living crisis, can we really afford the electricity bill?
I am not knocking the tech itself. Recently, LG (which makes some of the best OLED TVs in the business) unveiled an OLED that is a work of art in itself and also a shelf – something I can get behind since shelving is always useful. But are these transparent OLED screens helpful – or even fun? I'm not so sure.
Unless content perpetually covers the screen, there's a safety issue too…
Have you ever been into a store and mused, "I wish that this glass was more… informative"? Because from what I can see, these OLED panels are not being particularly helpful. Again, there's the safety issue – unless content perpetually covers most of the panel, it's akin to sliding glass doors, which any parent knows need to be adorned with stickers so your children know quickly whether it's open or closed.
So the problem is, what 'stickers' are you showing, LG? In the images shared by the company, most of the panels within the bakery ask shoppers "HOW ARE YOU TODAY?" accompanied by multiplying emoji faces. I'll be honest, if I'm about to inhale a highly calorific sweet treat, I might not want to talk about how I'm feeling pre-sugar rush, thank you.
If we cannot find a more compelling use for the tech than this, I fear it may never take off. Is this screaming to you that the tech is so cool that you can't wait to have it in your home one day?
Other non-existent problems which transparent OLEDs doubtless aim solve in retail include product information or dietary requirements. When I go to a bakery, my stomach does the shopping, fuelled by my eyes. I like to actually see beyond the glass pastry case to the beautiful creations lined up inside it. Usually, there are little cards by each tranche de viennoiserie.
I like to ask the cashier, "Is that an apple or a pear tart?" and then (irrespective of the answer) "I'll take it, please!" because I prefer a bit of human interaction to go with my buy-the-chocolate-fudge-cake moment. Conversation is self-care too, people…
Of course, over the past two-and-a-half years, sneeze guards at cash registers have become de rigeur in most shops – not just patisseries – and this area is a prime candidate for transparent OLED screens real estate. But it is oddly unconvincing here. It obscures your view of the talented human behind it doing interesting things. Who doesn't like seeing bread and cakes come out of an oven? I still remember the first time I saw Krispy Kreme doughnuts go through the glazing waterfall and come out the other end: magical.
Ultimately, because the screens are filled with pointless stuff rather than any information, I don't see the appeal. Would I want news headlines, train schedules or weather updates to go with my coffee and cake? Perhaps. But then again, maybe I want to disassociate with schedules and obligations when I'm treating myself.
It remains to be seen whether this venture will positively affect Paris Baguette's (ahem) turnover, or LG's push to get transparent OLEDs into our homes. For me, the future of TV tech is still very much unclear.
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Becky is a senior staff writer at TechRadar (which she has been assured refers to expertise rather than age) focusing on all things audio. Before joining the team, she spent three years at What Hi-Fi? testing and reviewing everything from wallet-friendly wireless earbuds to huge high-end sound systems. Prior to gaining her MA in Journalism in 2018, Becky freelanced as an arts critic alongside a 22-year career as a professional dancer and aerialist – any love of dance starts with a love of music. Becky has previously contributed to Stuff, FourFourTwo and The Stage. When not writing, she can still be found throwing shapes in a dance studio, these days with varying degrees of success.