A year ago we saw Samsung debut a device with an auxiliary curved display. The Galaxy Note Edge, along with the S6 edge that followed it intrigued many technology enthusiasts and regular people alike. Devices with curved displays on the side in a sea of rectangular cookie cutter devices are definitely refreshing, but I can’t help but feel like Samsung isn’t using these displays to their fullest potential. The Note Edge brought a few Edge Display features, but the S6 Edge Display experience was quite watered down in comparison.
Of course, sheer feature count has been one of the main tricks in Samsung’s playbook and I am not suggesting dumping any and all features into this device just because it’s possible. There’s a level of cohesion that makes an experience worthwhile, and that has been missing in the way that the Edge Display has been used so far.
The Edge Display is a proof of concept, and Samsung created it to show what they can do in terms of curved display technology, and while Samsung pretty much nailed it in terms of hardware and ergonomics, there really isn’t any compelling software offering, no “killer feature”, that proves it to be superior in terms of usability. Here are some ways in which Samsung can make the best use of the Edge Display:
Edge Lighting and Notifications:
One of the main features of the Edge Display is to provide information at a glance- a list of applications most frequently used, media playback buttons in media applications, a persistent clock and area for notifications, etc. The screen mirrors the functionality of the notification shade in some ways, and provides notifications for messages, emails, missed calls, and also has a “night clock” mode which as the name suggests, allows you to use the Edge Display as a clock when the main display is turned off. When kept face down, the Edge Display glows with a corresponding color for the contact to which it’s assigned.
While providing subtle notifications is a good design move, this particular implementation where the user is tasked with remembering which contact has been assigned which color can be a little bit taxing. Also, the phone has to be kept face down, which is not something that would occur to many people naturally. I believe that this Edge Lighting idea could be extended to provide notifications in the more familiar format. The Edge Display could be set to glow particular colors and provide notifications to the user instead of a notification light, a bit like the skyline notification light OPPO devices have, but encircling the main display, like a notification ring. Of course, the user should also have the option to set the brightness of this Edge Notification system. With app-level integration there could be different colored light based notifications for every app or app category. Notification LEDs are often obscured and often do not provide enough information about the type of notification, and the Edge Display could really provide richer and more detailed information at a glance, without having to power on the display and check the notifications.
The only issue with notifications on the Edge Display is that the information on the display is oriented horizontally, making it hard to read in portrait mode, which is the natural method of holding the device. I think that an icon-based notification system rather than scrolling marquee text would be the way to go in this case.
Recent Apps and Multitasking:
The Note Edge used the Edge Display to switch between most used apps- the problem was that this was not really tightly integrated with the system. Most users have a way in which they launch and switch between apps, and access the home screen. The hardware home button and the bottom row of app icons are an important aspect of that interaction, and using the display on the side was very confusing, as there was no regularity in the way in which you used the Edge Display and the various “panels”.
There was also “Favorite Apps”- the Edge Display can hold up to seven apps or folders, and does away with the standard row of apps on the bottom of the screen. In a sense, it’s quite like the Taskbar, but for Touchwiz. This is a useful way of accessing your most frequently used apps, but I wouldn’t call it innovative, because Touchwiz already had a feature called “ToolBox”- a floating circle that persistently remains on screen and allows the user to access up to five favorite apps.
The S6 edge did away with these features, and I really think that with a few changes, these features could make a comeback with the new Edge Display endowed device. System integration and a unified experience for task switching/multitasking is the key here. Certain app elements when shifted to the Edge Display would make for a better experience. For example, the A-Z list on phone books/contacts lists.
A great example of how native app support can help is shown by the key feature of the Note lineup- the S-Pen. It natively works with most applications, as it is basically used to touch the screen instead of your fingers, essentially an input device. Most applications can be used in conjunction with the basic functionality of the stylus. The Edge Display, on the other hand, is basically just an auxiliary display whose “features” are basically remapped versions of previously existing functionalities, apart from probably being a cool looking curved display that can have scrolling marquee text.
It’s the little things…
Indicating system status when the main display is turned off is one of the key features of the Edge Display. This should be augmented with a battery indicator. It’s really annoying to have to switch the phone display on each time the device is charging just to see how much it’s charged. A battery indicator that slowly rises along the edge with a percentage value would be really useful.
The Edge Display could be used as a gesture area to open apps. Swiping the Display to open certain applications could be implemented, however, accidental app switching could be the key limiting factor. Or, swiping down on the display to clear all recent apps.
It is essential to know how people will use something. With two attempts at figuring it out, Samsung have had quite a bit of time to figure it out. Will it be third time lucky or strike three?