Innovating is hard! But there's one trick that can pull any engineer right out of that rut: the extra display. Here are eight of the most surprising, audacious, and weird places ever to be graced with a display panel.
Nothing is immune, be it cameras, laptops, game controllers or ebook readers, and the trend is showing no signs of stopping. The consumer electronics industry, it seems, is slowly become one big episode of Pimp My Ride. Anyway, on with the screens.
An ill-timed half-step in the generational console wars, the Sega Dreamcast is remembered primarily as a failure. But for the purposes of this list, we'll rosily remember it as the first console to include displays in its controller. Strictly speaking, the "display" was one of the functions of the Visual Memory System cartridges, which each contained its own processor, memory, battery and, of course, 48x32 monochrome panel. Despite some genuinely OK uses—keeping certain controls secret during multiplayer games, or displaying FPS stats—the hardware couldn't really do the concept justice. [Pic via Axess]
When switched off, Samsung's TL220 and TL225 point-and-shoots look like any other boring camera. Switched on, they still look like any other boring camera, except for an odd-looking, forward-facing second display. Samsung's advertising angle is all about MySpace-style self-portraiture and making babies smile with horrifying clown animations, but the visual countdown timer is the only feature I think I'd ever end up appreciating.
Every stumble Barnes & Noble's eReader takes into the limlight reveals something stranger. First, we find out it'll run Android, a smartphone OS. Then we discover it's going to have two screens—a traditional E-ink display up top, and a multitouch LCD down below. There's no denying this makes for some great gadget porn, but we'll have to wait until tomorrow to find out if it's a good idea, because really, that's not at all clear.
Nintendo's entire DS pitch was about the second display, which was intended mainly as a touchscreen control interface. Early reviewers didn't really know what to make of it. Now, reviewers take Nintendo's two-screened style for granted.
The Eee Keyboard looks more like a one-off Ben Heck mod than it does a real product—a theory almost supported by its endlessly creeping release date. Today, units are about ready to ship, meaning that you'll be able to buy a QWERTY keyboard with a full-fledged computer in it, and a secondary touchscreen display crammed into the right-hand side.
Lenovo's ThinkPad W700ds captures the spirit of the extraneous second screen perfectly. One second you're just tapping away at your big, bland, work-issued laptop, then BAM! A secret monitor pops out of the side of your main screen. This is pure Inspector Gadget, right here. And man, the pitch for this thing over at Lenovo HQ must've been utterly spectacular. Thanks, namely Lenovo engineer! I hope this worked out for you.
Lenovo's secondary displays are covert; you know, hush hush. Sharp's, on the other hand, are out 'n' proud—in fact, Sharp's Mebius NJ70A carries its extra pixels right in the middle of its face, where you'd normally find a trackpad. Actually, this multitouch capacitive display is the trackpad.
The first generation of OLPC hardware was, despite some interesting flourishes, pure laptop. The first few generations of tablets PCs were nothing more than notebooks with an extra hinge. The next take on both concepts, the XO 2 and Microsoft's Courier, respectively, took everyone by surprise by killing keyboards in favor of displays. Neither is available yet, so the jury is out—way out—on whether or not our future has two screens, or just one.