Smartphone Innovations Around the World: Dual-Screens and Modules

Source: yotaphone.comAs this year’s Consumer Electronics Show included exciting innovations in almost every tech product category imaginable, some of the most interesting tech innovations to surface came from the smartphone industry. Here are a number of the most curious innovations that have shown up in the smartphone sphere — including one which has already crept onto one rather exclusive market.


First up is the YotaPhone from Russian smartphone manufacturer Yota. Like several other devices featured at CES, the Android-powered YotaPhone includes two displays. However, Yota took a unique approach to doubling its screen real estate by using two different types of display technologies.

According to CNET, the front of the YotaPhone uses a typical 4.3-inch LCD display with a 1,280 x 720 pixel resolution, while the back has an e-ink display with only 360 x 640 pixel resolution. E-ink is the same low-power display technology used by Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) for its Kindle e-book reader. Since e-ink displays consume less power, users can extend the device’s battery life by using the e-ink display for any functions that don’t require a high-resolution color screen.

Although the idea of a second low-power smartphone screen is intriguing, the success of the YotaPhone may depend on consumers’ willingness to sacrifice display quality for a longer battery life. As noted by CNET, the YotaPhone’s low-quality second display also suffers from a lack of software.

The YotaPhone will go on sale in Russia and various European markets by the end of this year, reports CNET. However, Yota noted that this iteration will not be released in the U.S. According to YotaPhone’s website; all available YotaPhones have already been reserved.

Source: W N-05E

Yota wasn’t the only smartphone manufacturer to toy with the concept of a double-display smartphone. Japan’s NEC is ahead of the pack with its own version of a smartphone with two screens with the somewhat awkwardly named Medias W N-05E. However, unlike the YotaPhone, NEC’s Medias W N-05E includes two 4.3-inch qHD color displays that can be positioned side-by-side to create a 5.6-inch display, reports CNET. A hinge that runs down the center of the device makes it possible to unfold the smartphone into a tablet configuration, or fold it shut for a more typical smartphone form factor.

As noted by CNET, this also allows the device to be set up in a triangular “tent” configuration where two users facing each other could each view a screen. Interestingly, this resembles a recently uncovered Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) patent for an iPhone that can be folded in half. However, Apple’s concept uses a flexible screen so there is no border in the middle of the display where the hinge is located. Apple’s invention is also intended for a single screen smartphone.

Although the Medias W N-05E’s dual screens combine the advantages of a tablet format with the portability of a smartphone, it’s quite likely that the two screens would also greatly reduce battery life. The Medias W N-05E has already debuted in Japan on carrier NTT DoCoMo’s (NYSE:DCM) network in April of last year, reports CNET.


Modular Smartphones

Some industry watchers have predicted that modular smartphones may be the next big step in mobile device evolution. Modular smartphones allow users to easily swap out or replace a device’s components without having to buy an entirely new device or pay a technician to install a component.

As noted by USA Today, the modular smartphone concept originated with Phonebloks founder Dave Hakkens. However, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG)-owned subsidiary Motorola and Chinese manufacturer ZTE have both adopted the concept and have each been working on their own modular smartphone projects.

Although Motorola did not mention its Project Ara modular smartphone at CES 2014, ZTE brought a non-working concept device that was kept under glass. ZTE’s modular smartphone, known as the Eco-Mobius, featured removable modules for the processors, camera, battery, and LCD, reports Engadget. Although CES attendees were not able to get their hands on the device, ZTE’s prototype offered a tantalizing glimpse at the possible future of smartphones.

Follow Nathanael on Twitter (@ArnoldEtan_WSCS)

More from Wall St. Cheat Sheet: