Ever since the original iPhone proved smartphones with full-body screens are attractive and interesting to consumers, a few companies have been working to demonstrate a device with at least two integrated displays that’s attractive, interesting, and desirable. Some of these products, like the magnificently weird ZTE Axon M, even came to market. They don’t exactly sell well, but that hasn’t stopped multiple manufacturers from taking on the category.
Samsung also had such designs once upon a time, and the product its Project Valley produced several years ago is another excellent example of why nobody should bother trying to take the greatest weakness of a smartphone and turn it into a strength.
Yes, I just called the smartphone screen its biggest weakness. But hear me out. Yes, it’s absolutely true, screen improvements are probably one of the biggest reasons people upgrade their smartphones. Why? Because they aren’t all that thrilled with the one they have. Modern smartphone displays have jaw-dropping color and text reproduction, but our ability to prevent them from scratching or breaking hasn’t advanced nearly as quickly. When new breakthroughs happen, companies respond by making the glass substrate thinner, thereby obviating the advance.
Beginning in the late 2000s, the overwhelming majority of consumers pivoted away from phones with physical keyboards towards phones with on-screen typing and autocorrect, even though test after test has proven that physical keyboards are quicker and more accurate.
Typing on the second screen might quicken a few pulses, but it’s unlikely to drive adoption. Apps that can take advantage of the dual screen concept are non-existent, which means Samsung would’ve had to create some of its own custom software to take advantage of the capability. Anybody lining up for more Samsung software, brought to you by the geniuses behind Bixby and Touchwiz? Anybody?
Moreover, thanks to advances in semiconductor manufacturing and SoC technology, the CPU is no longer the most power-hungry component in a modern phone. That honor falls to the display, in part thanks to the annoying trend of cramming more and more pixels (and by extension, more and more backlight) into devices long past the point at which the human eye can resolve additional detail.
So, having guaranteed that modern displays chew through more power than any other single smartphone component, we’ve then added two of them. Similarly, we’ve taken the most delicate, damage-prone component of a modern device and doubled up on them, along with an extremely thin hinge that’s just begging to be sat on or otherwise bent to the point where it no longer works properly. It’s the kind of product advantage that probably gets Tim Cook misty-eyed, imagining all those AppleCare claims and additional payments.
If I sound dismissive it’s because, well, I am. But I’m also not without some compassion on this point. The engineers that have worked on these projects have been trying to iterate on a very challenging design goal while creating something that might move the industry, as a whole, forward. Given how much of a revolution full-body phone screens were, it makes sense that companies would try to capture that lightning again. But while I’d love to be proved wrong, the chances of a design like this making much sense are slim indeed.
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