Could Yotaphone 2 change the way we use smartphones?

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The problem when talking about a lot of Android phones is that they’re pretty similar: They’re all essentially black rectangles, with a screen… and they all run Android – which regardless of what manufacturers try to do, is broadly the same experience on every device. However, a new entry – Yotaphone – has come up with an interesting way to break this mould and stand out from the pack.

Yes, it is an Android phone with a screen like all of the rest, and yes, it runs the same apps as every other Android phone, but what makes it unique is that on the back of the device is a full size e-ink display, just like you find on Amazon’s Kindle e-readers. It’s clever because it is more like looking at the page of a book rather than a screen – as it only refreshes when the software tells it to display something new, rather than 60 times a second like normal screens.

The upshot of this is that it consumes vastly less power – and Yota is pushing the idea that when you want to read something on your phone, be it your emails or a book, simply switch to the e-ink screen, and save battery in the process. The e-ink screen is an exact mirror of the normal one too – meaning you can run every any app on it (though your mileage my vary – it wouldn’t be good for watching video for a start).

Sounds great, right? Unfortunately, the phone perhaps didn’t entirely live up to the hype – received both mixed and positive reviews, but I wonder if it could be an indication of the next big innovation in mobile? I wonder if e-ink displays could become standard on phones – just as wifi and cameras did previously, and as fingerprint scanners are increasingly.

Mobile faces a huge challenge in terms of battery life: Though battery life is always increasing, we don’t notice it as manufacturers like to squeeze every last drop of power out of their devices – meaning we usually get a battery life of around a day. If we could offload certain tasks to a lower-power display – say, notifications, then every time we receive a message, our phones wouldn’t have to light up and sip a little bit more power.

Even if the Yotaphone was great though it faces a problem: It is not a big name. It takes the power of a company like Apple to move markets and introduce new ideas – but just as we had touchscreen smartphones before the iPhone, perhaps Yota is the first early e-ink smartphone before everyone else gets on board?

So could we perhaps see the next iPhone or Samsung Galaxy come with an e-ink display on the back as standard? I wouldn’t expect full app mirroring a la the Yotaphone, but a smaller, display, customised to notifications seems like a no-brainer to me.

James O’Malley