Should more smartphones go the YotaPhone way?

Anna Scantlin
Contributing Editor from  Kansas City, MO
| February 28, 2014

"Innovation" is one of the words we treasure most in this industry, yet it also seems like the word has also gradually lost its meaning over the past few years as well. When we talk about innovation today, you hardly ever hear somebody use it positively; instead, you're likely to hear about how this industry simply doesn't have it anymore. Innovation is lost, or in the very least hard to come by. While many are quick to quip that innovation is completely dead, I feel that innovation is simply just not as greatly exaggerated as it once was. After all, when the term "innovation" was first widely used in this industry, it was about the time that the first Apple iPhone showed up on the market. Admittedly, it is a little hard to top the sort of surprise and amazement that followed such an iconic release; still, I wouldn't say that innovation is completely dead.

Typically we look towards flagship releases each year to show us signs that innovation isn't dead, but you might be surprised to find that less popular phones might be doing the most innovating around here. Whether it's an innovation that people can get behind is, of course, up to the people paying for the product, but the ideas are still there nonetheless. One of the most intriguing examples of what one might consider "innovative design" today, in my opinion, is the YotaPhone.

I first heard about YotaPhone about a year ago. When you look at a YotaPhone from the front, it really looks like any ordinary Android device. There's not a whole lot of "wow"ing going on there. What is interesting about YotaPhone is actually displayed on the back, and I'm not talking in the form of a crazy camera - we're talking a completely different secondary display.

Secondary displays aren't exactly new to the industry either, even when it comes to smartphones. An example that sticks out in my mind is the Kyocera Echo, a phone that had two screens. One screen was the main display, but if one display wasn't enough a secondary display would flip out similar to how a QWERTY keyboard works. The secondary screen could work as a keyboard or as extention to the main display (for scrollabe web pages and such). However, there were some issues that accompanied the Echo that made it an unjustifiable purchase, despite its unique design. Not only was it running on an earlier version of Android, which wasn't exactly optimized for features like extended battery life, but two LCD displays didn't exactly help it either. Unique? Yes. Functional? Not exactly. 

But YotaPhone takes that same idea and recreates it in a way that actually works. Instead of two LCD displays, YotaPhone's design features an LCD display on the front and an eInk display on the back for notification and easy reading. In YotaPhone's case, the eInk display works as a unique feature that sets it apart from other phones. What makes it different and better than other phones that attempted the same idea is that by using eInk instead of LCD, the battery is even less of an issue. 

But should more phones employ the use of this secondary eInk display? The idea is good, and through this next generation YotaPhone it would seem that the design is getting better and able to do more, but would it make a good standard feature in most smartphones? At this point, probably not. There's still the issue that people would have to worry about two sides of the phone getting damaged, where as right now you only have a 50% chance of your phone landing on its face when it drops. There's also the question of whether the feature is actually something people feel like they need, or even want, in a smartphone. With features like Glance on the Nokia Lumia phones or Active Display on the Moto X, it's clear that there are alternative solutions to a complete secondary display that would allow people to see their notifications as needed. 

Still, the idea behind YotaPhone's design isn't all for show. There are some real uses behind the eInk display. While YotaPhone might never be for sale in the United States, I do wonder if other companies will try to employ the same idea to their smartphones sometime in the future. The question is, will people actually want the feature?

This is where you come in, readers. If you were able to have a secondary eInk display on the back of the phone you currently own, would you use it or would you rather not have it at all? Do you hope more phones come out with this type of design in the future, or is it too much of a niche product? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

Images via t3, The Digital Reader

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