In an era where every mainstream notebook has at least two CPU cores and even phones will soon have four, human beings are becoming the real bottleneck in every application. Each time you switch between tasks because you need to copy and paste that URL from the browser into your Facebook update in another tab or browser window, your system waits on you. Whether you’re using a notebook, tablet, or phone, more megahertz won’t solve this problem. Dual screens such as those on the Kyocera Echo phone and Acer Iconia 6120 tablet will.
Just think about all the things you need to do at once just to complete a single task. In one window on your notebook, you’re composing a document while in another two windows you’re doing research on the web, and in a fourth window you have Outlook open to deal with any urgent correspondence that comes your way. On your phone, you’re writing an e-mail to a client while you review your company’s prices in a PDF viewer and look at the client’s website.
If you have only one application visible at a time, you must constantly take a second or two to switch the display from one application to another. Not only does it take time to click (or tap) icons to task-switch, the act of switching taxes your short-term memory. If you read a document that you need to absorb before performing an action in the second window, you may have to switch back and forth several times, unless you have a photographic memory.
However, if you can see more than one application at a time, you’re limited only by the speed at which you can move your eyeballs or rotate your neck. Efficiency experts have known this for years. Way back in 2003, Microsoft researchers cited productivity gains of between 9 and 50 percent when upgrading from one to two screens. No wonder so many desktop users have two screens, but what about mobile users?
Whether they dock at home or at work, notebook users have always had the option to attach a second screen. However, up until the past couple of months, the options for deploying dual screens on the road have been few and far between.
If you wanted a second screen to take on your business trip, you could pack a bulky desktop LCD monitor in your luggage and hope it doesn’t break. Or you could take out a second mortgage and buy the $5,000, 13-pound Lenovo ThinkPad W701ds, which offers a tiny 10.6-inch secondary display that pops out of its lid.
Just this year, we’ve seen two compelling mobile monitors hit the market. Both the 14-inch Toshiba USB Mobile LCD Monitor and Mobile Monitor Technologies’ 15.6-inch Field Monitor Pro are light enough to bring with you and connect directly to your notebook’s USB port. These are truly convenient products that road warriors should buy like they’re going out of style, not only because they save time, but also because strong sales would encourage vendors to build more of them.
In the phone space, Kyocera recently released the groundbreaking Echo on Sprint. This dual-screen handset allows you to perform different tasks on each screen, such as messaging on one while you surf on the other. Optimized apps such as the e-mail client will even show you a menu (ex: your inbox) on one screen and content (ex: an e-mail message) on another.
Some of my fellow journalists have called the device “clunky,” because they don’t like the hinge design or the 3G-only connectivity. Who cares? The Echo is the first phone that truly lets you multitask. Put that in your Retina display and smoke it!
In the tablet arena, we’ve seen a few attempts to create dual-screen Windows systems. The Toshiba Libretto W105 came out last summer with two 7-inch screens and some really neat custom software, but its hot-running CPU required some heavy fans that made a ton of noise. The Libretto also didn’t dissipate the heat properly and sucked battery like nobody’s business.
March saw the release of the Acer Iconia 6120, a truly innovative device complete with unique software such as a social jogger that shows your news feeds on the bottom screen while allowing you to tap an update and view its contents on the top screen. However, the $1199 Iconia suffers from short battery life, bulk, and a high price.
The limitations of these early dual-screen slates should not hold us back. The Acer Iconia 6120 and the Toshiba Libretto W105 have set the stage for someone else to build a dual-screen tablet that lasts longer on a charge, weighs less, and carries a more reasonable price.
As consumers, businesspeople, and early adopters, we need to support this fledgling generation of dual-screen devices, both with our voices and our wallets. No matter how fancy processors get, dual-screen technology is the best way to speed up your gadget’s slowest component—you.