Glass phones are about to get very, very awesome

Are you ready for translucent phones? What about wood, or snakeskin? That’s the promise of Gorilla Glass 6, Corning’s newest generation of Gorilla Glass.

The next-gen display tech, which is used by Apple and Samsung, comes with the usual upgrades in scratch and impact resistance, but perhaps more exciting is that the glass can also be engineered to look and feel nothing like actual glass.

During a press event at the company’s Sunnyvale, Calif. facility Wednesday, the company showed off new designs that add realistic textures to its glass. It’s called “Vibrant” Gorilla Glass, and it was first introduced in 2016 with the promise that phone makers could print high resolution images directly onto it.

But its latest prototypes take the concept to the next level. The technique combines the printed images with etched glass that’s designed to mimic the feel of different textures, such as wood, rock, polished marble, or even snakeskin. The result is glass that doesn’t look or feel anything like glass.

“The picture’s on the back, the texture’s on the front, you combine the two and you’ve suddenly changed the way the industrial designers think about. ‘What’s my phone gonna look like?'” Corning’s innovation director for Gorilla Glass said.

It’s really remarkable how much the sample designs I held felt like the actual textures they resembled. The “wood” felt like, well, wood.

It’s not just textures, either. Corning has also experimented with a translucent glass, in case manufacturers want to show off the guts of the phone.There are also reflective colors and and gradients, in addition to the straight printed image designs.

In all, it’s enough customization that makes me question whether I would even bother buying a case for my phone if I had a say in choosing the design.

Of course, going case-less is a risk of its own. But Corning may have you covered there, too. Gorilla Glass 6 is also the company’s toughest glass yet. The new displays should be even more drop resistant then previous generations, according to the company, which says its new glass can survive 15 drops onto “rough surfaces” on average.

Though Corning won’t confirm which manufacturers will be adopting its latest display glass, the company did confirm the first phones to use it will hit the market later this year.

As for the colorful glass, Corning says it’s ready for phone makers now; but the big question is whether they’ll adopt the technology. The company debuted its first Vibrant Glass tech in 2016, and we have yet to see it on consumer phones, though it has been used in a few laptop designs.

But, if current smartphone design trends hold, we could see it sooner than later. As my colleague Raymond Wong noted last year, smartphones are finally getting interesting again, and much of that has to do with phone makers’ willingness to adopt new materials. And, one of the trends we’ve seen is more glass-backed phones (thanks, in part, to the rise of wireless charging).

What’s more, more major phone makers are experimenting with color. Samsung released a version of its S9 in purple, and OnePlus just showed off a red version of its OnePlus6. Even Apple is eyeing new colors, if rumors are to be believed

Put all that together, and it suddenly doesn’t seem all that unlikely at all that we could soon see more phones in unusual colors or even textures in the not-too-distant future .