Are Secondary Displays on Smartphones Making a Comeback?


We’ve seen secondary displays on smartphones that have a candybar form factor before. These secondary displays are compelling because they can act independently of the main display, providing such benefits as haptic feedback (when used for system navigation) and context-sensitive navigation (play controls in the multimedia program, etc). Also, they can illuminate independently of the main display, thus saving on battery life.

So far, implementations of a secondary display have been poor. In 2009, we tested the Mobinnova Ice, which had not only a strip of virtual buttons along the bottom of the screen that would act as a program launcher, but it also had a virtual D-Pad which would change its function to show system notifications when the main display was off. All three displays were low quality, and in the end, these auxiliary screens really didn’t add any utility to the phone.

But alas, the secondary display is coming back! This time, display and battery life technology has improved to the point where it actually makes sense to have two independent screens.


The best example so far is the Samsung Continuum coming out on Verizon. Its secondary display is mainly informational (although it is touch-sensitive). So that, for example, if you’re typing an email and you receive an SMS, new email, or Twitter reply, the information will flash on the secondary display, giving you a preview of the information at hand, without interrupting your workflow. You can choose to ignore it, or you can action on it by tapping on the notification. More impressively, the Samsung Continuum implements a grip sensor to determine when you’ve picked up the phone. Doing so will show you a variety of system indicators, as shown above. If you swipe to the right or left, you can view the current date and time, with a look at the weather. This saves on battery life because you don’t have to turn on your phone’s main to display to get a look at your notifications.


Then we have the Sharp IS03, another upcoming smartphone that utilizes two displays. The secondary display on this device has far less functionality than the secondary display on the Continuum. In this case, the second screen will stay on all the time, showing you either the stock Android buttons, or the date/time. Hopefully this area will be customizable. It’d be nice to have multimedia controls while in the music player, etc.

Do you like the idea of having a secondary screen on your smartphone?

(images via BGR and Engadget)

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About The Author
Brandon Miniman
Brandon is a graduate from the Villanova School of Business, located near Philadelphia, PA. He's been a technology writer since 2002, and, in 2005, became Editor-in-Chief of Pocketnow, a then Windows Mobile-focused website. He has since helped to transition Pocketnow into a top-tier smartphone and tablet publication. He's so obsessed with technology that he once entered a candle store and asked if they had a "new electronics" scent. They didn't.