NEW DELHI: Hot on the heels of foldable phones announced by Royole and Samsung, smartphone makers are pushing a new category—dual-screen phones. Unlike foldable screens which are made of a single giant screen that can be folded from the middle, dual-screen phones have two separate screens—on both the front and back panels (remember the Nokia Communicator?).

Smartphones like the YotaPhone and Meizu Pro 7 have attempted dual displays before. The YotaPhone used an LCD screen on the front and an E-ink display on the back. An E-ink display is the one used in Amazon’s Kindle e-readers. They are slower and cannot produce a full-colour image like LCD or AMOLED (an active-matrix organic light-emitting diode screen activates pixels faster) panels.

“What differentiates the latest attempts from the past, is that they have been able to improve upon the idea of a dual-display with their innovations, offering full-screen colour displays on the secondary screen," notes Prabhu Ram, head (industry intelligence group) at CyberMedia Research. A case in point is the Vivo Nex Dual Display Edition, which has a 6.4-inch full HD AMOLED screen on the front and 5.5-inch full HD AMOLED screen on the back. It is currently available in China at 4,998 yuan (around 52,490).

Like multiple cameras, dual screen is another attempt by phone companies to create some buzz around their brands, believes Navkendar Singh, associate director (client devices and IPDS) at International Data Corp. (IDC).

But who is the target audience? The second screen on Vivo’s phone can run the same set of apps as the front panel. A major advantage of having a screen on the back is that users can use the back cameras for capturing selfies. Front-facing cameras are usually fixed-focus ones, whereas rear cameras are more advanced.

The Nubia X from China’s Nubia Technology Co. Ltd has two screens with in-display fingerprint sensors built into both of them.

Both smartphones can also run two different sets of apps simultaneously on the two screens, letting users multitask without having to minimize any of them. However, there’s a flip side to dual-screen phones. For one, two displays also means greater chances of breakage. In a smartphone, the display is among the most important and pricey component.

For instance, Samsung’s AMOLED panels on its flagship devices can cost nearly 20,000 to replace. Similarly, getting an OLED display replaced on the iPhone Xs Max can reportedly cost up to $329 (around 23,470).

Further, since the display also accounts for most of the phone’s battery usage, two displays running two different sets of apps at the same time will not only require more processing speeds but more battery power too.

“Then there is the question of what value the second screen adds, in comparison to bendable screens, which allow users to switch from a 4-inch to an 8-inch screen," IDC’s Singh points out.

A lot of the display advancements revolve on how the rest of the ecosystem is evolving, say analysts. Nevertheless, Tarun Pathak, associate director (mobile devices and ecosystems) at Counterpoint Research, believes the time is right for dual-screen phones or foldable phones.

“Mobile chipsets are now more powerful and capable of handling bigger screens, and even two screens. Battery backup has also improved. Also, we are at a point of transition from 4G to 5G, which might open up newer use cases, which are not possible with single screen phones," he adds.

At the moment, dual-screen phones feel a little vain, compared to foldable screens, which will let users expand the screen size. Two screens can come in handy in different scenarios, like capturing selfies using the rear camera, multitasking or using the back panel as a controller while gaming.

Pathak also thinks dual-display phones are a cool concept and will get attention, but for the category to grow and stay alive, phone makers will have to attach more meaningful experiences to them while developers will have to make apps that could take advantage of the dual screens.

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