As gadget manufacturers try to cram larger displays into cellular handsets and personal digital assistants (PDAs), a Massachusetts-based company is turning heads by designing displays that are so small users need a magnifying lens to see the image.

Kopin is betting its CyberDisplay is just what portable digital device manufacturers are looking for. The 640x480 pixel display takes up very little space and also carries a small price tag. The company was showing off prototype products using its miniature displays at the Ceatec Japan 2001 technology exhibition.

The CyberDisplay has a diagonal width of just 9mm (or 6mm in the case of the lower-resolution 320x240 pixel version) and is smaller than a coin. All that is needed is a magnifying lens to allow users to see the entire screen.

Kopin formed an alliance with Sanyo to create head-mounted displays and telephone handsets featuring the CyberDisplay [pictured]. The head-mounted displays are worn like a pair of glasses with screens either side. Mirrors in front of the eyes reflect the images.

The phone-based CyberDisplay have a retractable lens and reflector that can be pulled out of the base when the user wants to view the web. In use, the handset is raised higher than a normal phone so its end is at eye level rather than mouth level.

The first portable product using Kopin’s screen that is likely to see a commercial launch is a wireless handheld device called the Icom developed by Interactive Imaging Systems. Described as a personal internet browser, the handheld device is held up to the eye and a lens, placed in front of one of Kopin's screens, gives users a VGA-resolution screen. The device is based on Microsoft’s Windows CE operating system and a StrongARM processor and will be manufactured by Omron in Japan.