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A smartphone with two screens? Sure, why not?

The dual screen YotaPhone.

A new smartphone comes out this week: The YotaPhone -- that’s Yota, with a T -- is a Russian-made Android phone with a second screen on the back. Asking price, about $600. It poses a question: what distinguishes real innovation from a gimmick? 

“I guess I’m cautious to say, ‘This is ridiculous,’” says Sarah Kessler, who writes about technology for Fast Company. After all, lots of people said the iPad was a dumb idea with a silly name. “But I guess when I first looked at it, I did not really see why I would need one, no.”

The smartphone market is “kind of a Samsung/Apple game,” says Alexis Madrigal, who covers tech for The Atlantic. Breaking out of the pack to win new customers, he says, “strikes me as really difficult, without something that really wows you in-person, where you go, ‘Oh, I must have this thing, and I’m going to take the chance on a less well-known brand.”

How about the YotaPhone’s second display?  “It strikes me as kind of -- middling,” he says.

Bay Area designer Chris Noessel is co-author of "Make it So: Interaction Design Lessons from Science Fiction."

He agrees, the YotaPhone is no lightsaber. “This is a band-aid of an innovation,” he says.

But just the other day, he had a problem the YotaPhone might have addressed: Getting off the BART train in San Francisco, he ran out of battery. The YotaPhone’s second screen uses e-Ink, like a Kindle, which uses hardly any juice. Maybe a YotaPhone wouldn’t have bricked itself. He could’ve texted the colleague picking him up.

So, would he consider buying one?

“Because I had that experience on BART -- hell, yes, I would.”

So, there’s one potential customer.

About the author

Dan is a sustainability reporter for Marketplace.

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