Let’s Get the Most Out of Touch Screen Phones

Engadget has a look at an upcoming Samsung smartphone running Android (s goog) that offers a second smaller OLED touch screen below its main display. Why would you want this? The second, smaller touch screen, reportedly called the Ticker, will show updates and information such as RSS feeds, weather and time, and you’ll be able to wake it by simply holding the bottom of the phone. The most obvious advantage? You can get key information without having to wake the larger battery-sucking screen.

That by itself is intriguing, but when I saw the latest news of the Samsung Continuum, my first thought was: Why stop there? The inclusion of a second touch screen will hopefully propel us down the road to where we start making the entire face of the phone touch sensitive, which could be a big boost for applications like gaming. Right now, the touch displays already dominate most of the screen real estate on many smartphones but there are still areas that could offer more touch input. You wouldn’t have to greatly expand the size of a phone or decrease the size of the display, just extend touch on panels adjacent to the screen.

[inline-pro-content] Having a wider area to input touch would be a nice addition for games, especially more complicated shooters in which I currently have to obscure some of the screen with my thumbs. If I could use the adjacent area next to the main display for buttons or a virtual joystick, I’d have more of the screen to see. Imagine playing an iPhone game like Call of Duty: Zombies with touch controls off to the side of the main screen. It would open up the game and approximate more of a console or traditional handheld experience. That’s been one of the problems for the iPhone and other touch smartphones. It doesn’t have dedicated gaming controls and while it hasn’t hurt some titles like Angry Birds, it can feel claustrophobic playing certain games on the small screen.

In the future, why couldn’t phone manufacturers include either larger touch screens that extend across the entire face of a device or install two screens that sit atop and below the main display? It wouldn’t have to be an actual display, but more like an expanded touch zone, similar to what you see on the Palm Pre but larger. You might not utilize it at all times — to limit accidental presses — but in the right situations, it would be good to have touch extend top to bottom for dynamic gestures and better input.

The second screen on the Continuum will definitely get some use as a ticker but we shouldn’t stop there. If this is a touch screen device, let’s make it a true touch screen and get the most out of all that real estate.

Related research from GigaOM Pro (subscription req’d):