Would ereading work better on a smartphone with two screens? We may get the chance to find out.
ZTE’s new Axon M phone design has hit the news in the last few days: a smartphone with a second screen on the back, that unfolds and flips around to make a single double-wide screen (with a break in the middle). It could be treated as a single large screen, or two separate screens on which you could do two different things at the same time (like take notes one screen, while you watch a movie on the other). You could stand it up like a tent so that both you and the person across the table from you could watch a video at the same time. (Or I could even see them developing two-player games that could be played that way. “You sank my battleship!”)
Of course, as the Wired article I linked notes, at the moment Android isn’t really set up to manage two separate screens in that format very well, which also goes for the apps that come with it. But assuming this kind of design catches on, I could see e-reader programs set up to treat each screen as a separate portrait-shaped page, so you could get a two-facing-pages open-book display that makes the break in the middle seem natural. Or perhaps it could display the book cover on the back screen, for the edification of people around you who wonder what you’re reading. (Though on a phone-sized device, your hand would be covering up most of it anyway.)
On the whole, I’m skeptical this design will catch on; it feels like a solution in search of a problem, and its drawbacks seem to outweigh its advantages. Two screens means double the battery drain, and it also means setting it down on a surface in closed phone mode could be awkward. (And how would you design a case for it that could be used without removing it from the case?) And the hinge holding the screens together seems like a certain failure point. How many times could the phone be opened and closed without wearing it out?
We’ve never seen a two-screened tablet or e-reader design that lasted very long. (Remember the Kno?) I suspect the same will hold true for this two-screened phone. But I will look forward to seeing if I’m wrong!