There must be something in the water. In the past few months, both Microsoft and Samsung have announced new dual screen devices to be made available to the public later in the year. Even Motorola has gotten in on the action, with the newly-reissued Razr also featuring a foldable screen (and a $1500 price tag). Clearly, tech companies view foldable and dual screens to be the future of portable tech – but what are the advantages? Will the new releases make anyone want to trade in their old single-screen smartphones, especially considering the disasters that plagued the Samsung Fold’s initial launch?

To answer that question, let’s look first at the supposed advantages of a dual screen interface. Plenty of people already have multiple screens for their desktop set-up, as it allows them to work on multiple tasks simultaneously and shift seamlessly between projects. Plenty of gamers also prefer having more than one screen to provide a larger, more immersive experience. But on a smartphone, where the interface is considerably smaller and touch-sensitive, the main benefit of having a dual or foldable screen is that it’s larger while also taking up less space. Many users will also appreciate the ability to run multiple apps alongside one another. 

It’s important to note here that, while Samsung, Motorola, and other smartphone manufacturers have embraced the idea of a foldable screen, Microsoft’s coming Duo and Neo (due “holiday 2020”) have dual screens, meaning that the two screens are separated by a hinge. While this probably makes them cheaper to make than the Fold, the new interface means that most, if not all, apps will have to be redesigned in order to be compatible. We’ll go deeper into the design implications in a future blog post, but suffice it to say that the entire web and app development process will become significantly more complicated. 

It will be interesting to see whether Microsoft’s dual screen devices will be as revolutionary as the company hopes they are. A lot of that will come down to what additional functionality the dual screen will add, as well as the amount of time it will take for developers to design apps that make the most of the new possibilities. 

The biggest question that I have is whether the technology is actually at the point where it offers some benefit to consumers. The cynic in me wonders whether the new launches are less about the reveal of wondrous new tech and more a way to get people to spend a lot of money on something that may not yet be fully developed. When you consider that foldable and dual screen devices can cost well over one thousand dollars, it seems like a pretty big investment to make on something whose benefit is still relatively unproven. Motorola itself says that “bumps and lumps are normal” with the foldable Razr, which doesn’t exactly sound like a huge selling point for a phone that is one and one half times more expensive than the latest iPhone model. 

Will this be the year that dual screen and foldable devices get their due? It’s unlikely, but who knows – 2020 as a whole has thus far managed to defy prediction entirely.