A dual-screen phone was among the most innovative new ideas at Cannes this year. Now YotaPhone hopes to revolutionize the mobile phone industry.
New smartphone models are released at a breakneck pace, yet the reality is, each new handset model is always shades of the same-with slightly better tech specs. In this furious race for faster, better, smarter does anyone stop to consider whether the average user actually needs more megapixels in their camera or an incrementally faster processor?
The creators of YotaPhone
contemplated this exact quandary when developing its revolutionary dual-screen phone. Awarded an Innovation Lion at Cannes this year, the YotaPhone may look like a major strike in the features arms race but, in fact, the phone’s new functionality is designed to be a more human response to the current state of the mobile user experience.
As CEO Vlad Martynov tells it, a few years ago, his team at Moscow-based company Yota Devices
held a brainstorming session to tackle what they didn’t like about the experience of mobile phones. "We quickly realized that technology today has changed our behavior, the way we communicate with others, and the way we behave on a daily basis. It makes us less human, less emotional, even less social, despite the fact that people spend a lot of time on social media."
The now-common and distracting habit of routinely waking up dark screens to check for updates, which Martynov says phone users do on average 150 times a day, was cited as the most intrusive activity normalized by current smartphones. The brainstorming session also articulated how device-led communications strip messages of their emotional intent. "The way technology has developed is changing our communication but not it the right way. It’s possible to bring it back. It’s possible to make those messages more emotional and make check-ins less disruptive," he says.
It was from this insight that the YotaPhone was born. It’s designed to minimize the time spent actively engaging the phone and maximize the human connection-and it promises to vastly improve battery life, the most universal grievance among mobile users. How? By providing two distinct screen types that are optimized for distinct activities-a traditional LCD screen on one side for video and dynamic content, and an electronic paper display on the other for reading, photos, and real-time feeds-yet interact seamlessly and allow users to customize how to display the content most relevant to them. With the swipe of two fingers, content that’s displayed on the LCD screen is moved to the e-paper screen, where is stays without going dark.
A family photo can be constantly on display, or customized information-such as email, a calendar, news, or twitter feeds-can be always on and updated in real time. This eliminates the need to actively check your phone, says Martynov, proposing that a simple, discreet glance is favorable to obviously waking up a phone for updates. Important messages require action before they disappear so that they don’t go unnoticed. Phones can be personalized with rotating images on the back display. And a total dream for those constantly struggling with low battery life: Whatever image is on the e-paper screen remains there even once the battery is completely dead. So if you’re rushing through an airport with low power, swipe your boarding card to the back screen and there it remains.
Martynov says the development process started by researching existing technologies that could address the issue of too-short battery life "right now, not in the future when there’s a new technology." The company’s philosophy, he says, is to "look at the problems people have with devices, look at the available tech that can solve this problem right now, and bundle together the technology in the device that provides the experience to the consumer."
Electronic paper display proved to be an intriguing option because of its low power consumption. The YotaPhone battery life is four to five times longer when reading on the e-ink screen. From there, the company started tinkering with the well-established navigation of smartphones. Built on Android, the OS is largely untouched, except for apps built specifically for the e-ink screen (such as the one that allows images to be displayed even when the battery is sucked dry).
The most noticeable difference from any existing smartphone is the lack of a home button. Martynov says this came from a desire to make the user experience more akin to how people actually communicate. "Humans use gestures when we communicate. We don’t use buttons; when we talk, we don’t press any buttons. Our philosophy is that it should be as close to natural human behavior as possible." Instead, the bottom portion of the phone (where a home button would be) uses gestural navigation. And, as mentioned, a double-finger swipe sends text-based information from the LCD to the e-paper screen.