Multi-Screen Phones: Are They Worth Our Attention?

At the CES 2013, a company from Moscow called Yota Devices presented a quirky phone with two screens – one on the back, and one on the front. The concept behind this phone (known as the YotaPhone) was created in hopes of stimulating the already fast-paced mobile phone market and hopefully introducing a technology that will change the way we use our devices. Of course, the success of the YotaPhone depends entirely on how useful consumers believe a second screen on their phone will be. No amount of marketing will change that. So, we need to have a look at whether multi-screen phones are really worth punching holes through our wallets.

Can People See Your Screen Freely?


When I first heard about multi-screen devices, the first concern I had was whether or not there were actually measures in place that would prevent someone with prying eyes from seeing what I’m doing on my second screen. Sadly, there are no such measures on the YotaPhone, but future phones might make use of the rear camera to detect whether you’re looking at the screen yourself or not.

Either way, this concern is a bit small because you usually cover the back of your phone with your hand. No matter which screen is facing rear, snoopers would have a really hard time looking through your hand.

What’s The Second Screen For, Anyway?


Now that we got the privacy implications out of the way, let’s talk about function. What would you do with two screens? The YotaPhone’s answer to this is that it acts as a static display of whatever app you’re using, as long as you’re using an app that’s compatible with two-screen display. So, for example, if you open the maps app, you can bring up a static version of the app on the second screen and have it work there even after your phone is locked. This comes in handy when you want to navigate without cannibalizing your battery (the second screen is a black and white low-power e-ink display, by the way).

Usually, the second screen on the YotaPhone shows a wallpaper of your choosing. The screen is also navigable, but only through a capacitive touch area right below it. Understandably, this screen is not a touch screen.

If this concept takes off, it would be really interesting to see what other manufacturers come up with to bring some competition into the loop.

How Useful Is a Second Screen?


I’m not exactly sure what kind of person would look at a smartphone and say, “Hmm. This phone seems to be missing another screen.” However, the implications of having two screens would probably get the ball rolling at least on a niche level. Many people install multiple monitors on their desktops. But this isn’t the same thing as having two screens on a smartphone that serve two different purposes. This is what makes the market for such devices so unpredictable. Are people really going to find it useful?

As far as I see it, the second screen will always be limited. At this moment, having two completely autonomous touchscreens on a smartphone is just asking for trouble. As soon as you unlock the phone, you would accidentally press something with the hand you’re holding your phone with. Does that mean that having more screens on such a portable device is a pipe dream? Absolutely not! Where there’s a will, there’s a way, and YotaPhone is a device that has demonstrated that the multi-screen concept is possible. As for its usefulness, it’s got just enough potential to actually catch on, despite the fact that an always-on secondary screen on your phone can actually drain your battery significantly.

In the end, whether these devices are actually useful to you depends a lot on your tastes and preferences. Are multi-screen smartphones worth the hassle? Leave a comment below and tell us what you think!

Miguel Leiva-Gomez
Miguel Leiva-Gomez

Miguel has been a business growth and technology expert for more than a decade and has written software for even longer. From his little castle in Romania, he presents cold and analytical perspectives to things that affect the tech world.

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