Seeing Double

Can ZTE’s Dual-Display Phone Start a Trend?

This week, ZTE launched its dual-display Axon M, a flagship Android smartphone with two full high-definition, 5.2-inch colour screens. The phone opens lengthwise like a long clamshell with the two displays snapping together, resembling a tablet.

But the Axon M won’t fool anyone into thinking a miracle happened before their eyes. There are large bezels and clear seams. When the device is open, it looks like two ZTE smartphones were pushed together side by side.

Nonetheless, this is a striking design. It’s not necessarily new in vision nor in implementation: this sort of mutating device has been a long-term industry goal, and over the years there have been plenty of dual-screen phones including the YotaPhone and the Samsung Continuum. We’ve also seen several working rollable displays that will eventually become commercial components.

ZTE’s Axon M will go on sale in the coming weeks in time for the holiday season, at an expected retail price of about $750. The manufacturer has already gained support from several major operators worldwide including AT&T, DoCoMo and Vodafone.

By our estimates, with sales of about 13 million in the second quarter of 2017, ZTE is the world’s eighth largest smartphone brand in the world. Its desire to be innovative is commendable, but also necessary to avoid the danger of falling smartphone shipments. Samsung, the number-one phone maker, shipped 79 million smartphones in the same quarter, and ZTE’s Chinese rivals Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo pushed ahead with over 20 million units each. ZTE must differentiate in the abundance of Android smartphones. The Axon M handset is bringing attention to the company, but ZTE is unlikely to go down in the history books as the brand that started a new trend in smartphone design.

We expect to see similar dual-screen commercial devices from LG and Samsung in the coming months. This has been a public ambition of both manufacturers.

There’s potential for disruption here. Smartphones have been on an impressive evolutionary course during the past decade, with flat full-touch devices making up nearly 100 percent of the market. These devices had already been muscling in on tablet sales, and in theory, this new design could double their impact and open up new possibilities. However, the industry may need to accept the argument that the smartphone has already reached an accepted shape and form that fulfills users’ needs.