The popSLATE case gives your iPhone a secondary E Ink display

Taylor Martin
 from Concord, NC
Published: December 3, 2012

I fault the iPhone for having such a small display. The software is, slowly but surely, aging poorly. But I can deal with a dated interface – so long as it works well. But the one aspect of the iPhone I can't seem to get over is how small the display is.

I have fairly large hands (thumbs, really) and even after a minor bump to a 4-inch Retina Display, the narrowness is difficult to adjust to coming from the 5.5-inch Galaxy Note II display. For weeks now, I've been contemplating switching it out for something new and different. So far, my only reservations have been my investments in the ecosystem and the broad array of different cases and accessories that are available specifically for iDevices.

A perfect example of just that is a project that is seeking funding via Indiegogo. The project is called popSLATE. On the outside, it may just look like any other iPhone case. But upon closer inspection, popSLATE is really a rather unique and awesome product – at least the premise behind it is. What may initially look like a black and white graphic on the back of the case is actually a 4-inch E Ink display.

In fact, I saw popSLATE run on Engadget Friday afternoon. I skimmed the article and thought to myself, "That's a cool idea, but why would anyone want that? It's expensive and a novelty item, at best." I saw the E Ink display on the rear and thought its sole purpose was to customize the case, sort of like a customizable wallpaper for your case.

This morning, however, I opened Reeder on my MacBook and I saw the Engadget article again. So I clicked the link again and re-read it. Turns out, the concept behind and functionality of the second display is … borderline genius.

It's primary use is not much beyond my original thought. Using the popSLATE companion app, you can snap pictures and instantly send them to the secondary display on the backside of the phone – sort of like a wallpaper for your case. Cute.

But its use cases extend far beyond just changing the backside of the case.

Being E Ink, the display is always-on. Despite sounding like a serious battery suck, though, if the image on the screen is not changing, it's not using power. And when it is using power, it's negligible. The case itself plugs into the Lightning port for both data transfer and power.

The creators of popSLATE are working to create open APIs so developers can create always-on applications that will work with the case and secondary display. What does that mean, exactly? It means you could get notifications in real time without having to look at the primary display. You could lay the phone face-down and get unobtrusive notifications as they roll in. Since the secondary display is E Ink, it works particularly well as a miniature e-reader, too, for reading in bright sunlight and saving precious battery life.

The secondary display could be used for all sorts of different things, making popSLATE and the iPhone 5 one of the most unique collaborative products on the market.

The Indiegogo project has 43 days left and has already raised two-thirds of their $150,000 goal. Since over 500 people have pledged, the $79 deal has expired. But you can reserve your own popSLATE unit for $99 and expect to receive it in June 2013. Or you can splurge $267 for three, if that's more your style.

This is yet another crowd-funded project I'm on the fence about. Imagine the Lumawake smart dock and popSLATE together. (Accessories and apps really are what make the iPhone and iOS ecosystem so valuable.)

I want popSLATE for the notifications feature and because it uses micro USB to charge the device since the case itself uses the Lightning port. (Being able to consolidate to micro USB would be amazing.) It's a great idea and a genius product.

However, it's a bit on the expensive side. I'm not against paying a bit more and helping a project get off the ground – so this isn't my primary concern. That said, I am worried about how long it will take for these cases to arrive. Although I've nearly broken my habit of rapidly switching devices, I'm still not one to hold on to devices for too long. And the beginning of June is five months away, and only about three months before we can expect yet another iPhone.

On the flip side, since Apple has a knack for only changing the design of its phone every two years and won't likely be changing the Lightning port any time soon, there's a strong chance this case will work with the next iPhone, too. But it's certainly not set in stone.

Is popSLATE a novel product? Yes. Is it intriguing? Definitely. Is it enough to keep me on the iPhone until June and beyond? Doubtful. Luckily, with 43 days to go, I still have plenty of time to ponder.

What do you think about popSLATE, ladies and gents? Is a second, always-on, E INK display something you could see yourself using on your iPhone? Or does this merely seem like a novelty to you?

Products mentioned