LG just released a smartphone with top of the line specifications, a phablet form factor, and a top-mounted “ticker” display called the “Second Screen”. Now, we all know LG isn’t the first device with a secondary display: this concept has been around since the heyday of the flip phone, where said phones had a little LCD screen on the back. With so many different approaches taken by various OEMs towards creating secondary display experiences, how does LG’s way of doing things fare?
Different approaches to the secondary display:
When it comes to secondary displays there’s the Galaxy S6 Edge and Edge Plus, with a secondary curved display along both the sides. There’s the YotaPhone, with a secondary E-Ink display at the back. There’s also software based features like Motorola’s Moto Display, and Ambient Display on the Nexus 6 , and the new Nexus 6P. The LG G4 has a feature where you can swipe down on the screen while it’s locked, to display the time and notifications, thus allowing notifications to be displayed without having to wake the device. Samsung itself had a phone with a similar ticker type of display on its Continuum smartphone. Wearables like smartwatches are primarily built for notifications management. They also have the added benefit of eliminating the need to take your phone out of your pocket. In a way, they also act as secondary displays external to the main device.
Is it useful though?
All these approaches to the secondary display aim to achieve similar things: to provide useful contextual information without having to wake the device’s main display, to be a dock for most used apps and features, and for notifications. The utility of this technology is debatable though. As we’ve seen with Samsung’s Edge Display and even the YotaPhone, the level of customization is often quite limited, only a few apps can take advantage of these features, and the usefulness of most of them is questionable at best.
Another issue with secondary displays is that they often mess with the normal workflow of the end user. They don’t often have uniformity across the whole system, making it a disjointed and confusing experience. Of course, everything new takes some getting used to, but it can be a deterrent for many users.
Ambient Display type implementations are much more easy to use, of course, and they even obviate the need for a secondary display by leveraging the capabilities of AMOLED displays. However, these are not available to every smartphone user out there, and the user has to interact with the display, by either tapping or utilizing the proximity sensors on the front of the device (if they are there).
How is LG’s Second Screen different?
LG’s Second Screen is a secondary display, but it’s not technically a separate screen: while it’s a part of the same IPS LCD panel, it has an independent display driver and backlight controller. It stays always-on by default.
To be honest, it isn’t a radically new or unique way of implementing a secondary display. Pre-Smartphone era devices, and even smartphones like the aforementioned Samsung Continuum, have had similar features. The selling point of the ticker display is mainly to provide information about notifications or reminders without turning on the main display. This would in theory lead to battery savings, as the main display is not powered on to check the notifications each time.
With these points in mind, the ticker as a secondary display could be viewed as a regressive move. Think about it: the Edge Display shows off Samsung’s prowess in manufacturing curved displays , the YotaPhone’s E-Ink display brings benefits in readability, significant battery savings, and Ambient Display technology utilizes AMOLED technology along with sensors to help users view notifications more easily (with the exception of the new Motorola devices, which are LCD). What does a ticker display do that’s new or better?
The Ticker Display’s role in the overall User Experience:
The utility of LG’s Ticker boils down to a few key factors.
- It should be placed in a location that makes sense for viewing when you’re not using the phone
- It should be customizable and not confined to proprietary apps and features
- It should have low power consumption
LG’s Second Screen is placed along the top of the display, beside the front facing camera. The size seems big enough to display a few words of text, but not big enough to display a whole lot of information at once. This would leave the user waiting for the ticker to scroll horizontally or vertically to the next line of text, which makes little sense. It also houses some shortcuts to certain apps and toggles. It would have been nicer if LG had given the user the option to move the status bar icons onto this Second Screen, giving the main display some more real estate. It would also be useful when the screen is in landscape and apps or certain games can use that extra real estate without accidentally swiping the notifications menu. It could provide a little bit more immersion while watching videos as well, in that regard.
The ticker could have also been used to house frequently used apps. It would have been nice if it were also used like a gesture area to open certain apps. Swiping on the ticker to clear all recent apps could also be done, but would not be intuitive due to the placement of the ticker on the top of a phablet type device. Certain UI elements like media playback and some of the icons found on the Camera viewfinder are also moved to the Second Screen, which is a good move – though it still remains to be seen whether it will play nice with non-proprietary apps, and whether third-party developers will embrace the Second Screen in designing their own offerings.
Finally, if the user has control over which notifications and features are displayed on the ticker display as opposed to the main display, it could lead to more fine-grain customizability. A hardware key to toggle between main display mode and ticker mode could possibly help this even more. Hardware keys have been used before as toggle switches, most recently in the OnePlus Two, which has a three stage slider button to toggle the notification mode. This would work similar to the “Active” button on the Samsung Galaxy Active series, or the Push Button on the Surface Pro 3 Stylus, which directly opens OneNote. If the user is able to move certain things onto the secondary display with the push of a button, or a swipe gesture, it could be used with note taking applications for saving certain text, or moving certain elements on there as a temporary work space.
The Ticker Display is kind of confusing:
At first glance, the LG V10 and it’s Second Screen seem rather weird. It’s placed in a way that’s not easily reachable on a phablet device. It’s apparent utility is questionable. It doesn’t even appeal to people craving for niche devices or new form factors.
LG’s particular implementation seems to be a haphazard afterthought rather than a well thought out design solution. LG seems to be content with throwing this peculiar device out into the ether, without any concrete reason, or demand for this particular feature. It’s in a way, the wrong answer to a question nobody’s even asking.
But wait, there’s more
Calling the LG V10 “a peculiar device with a weird second display nobody really wants” would not do it justice. The Second Screen is just one part of the whole package here. It has two front facing cameras that work in tandem to create wide angle shots. There is expandable storage of up to two terabytes, and there’s also a 3,000 mAh removable battery. The Second Screen isn’t the only thing that this device has to offer- it’s a very capable camcorder, and the fact that it’s using the same camera found on the G4 would mean that it’s most probably a really good one to say the least.
Maybe the Second Screen is just a sideshow to the marquee selling point, that is the ability of this device to act as a capable camcorder. Perhaps this interplay of capable cutting-edge hardware coupled with an age-old design artifact in the Second Screen is why the LG V10 is such a confusing device.