While Samsung is no stranger to smartphones with two screens, to date the innovation has been reserved for handsets like the Galaxy Z Fold 4 and Galaxy Z Flip 4. A new patent unearthed by SamMobile suggests that might not always be the case, and Samsung is toying with the idea of adding rear screens to its regular high-end handsets.
The patent, entitled “Electronic apparatus comprising transparent display”, was filed back in January, but published this week. Like the Nubia X from Chinese company ZTE, the patent shows a phone with a second screen on the rear of the device. Unlike the Nubia, this screen is both smaller and transparent, meaning it hides in plain sight when not in use.
It can, as the patent explains, “visually expose an inner region (eg, a color or a pattern implemented in the exterior of the electronic device)” or “be selectively activated to provide various types of visual effects.”
As you can probably tell from that extract, the patent is written in Korean, and the machine translation is a little garbled, but there are still some key points we can take from it.
For one, its intent is both decorative and practical, as the translated text explains. “In some embodiments, the electronic device may display a graphic object necessary for photographing by using a transparent display or output a live view image of the subject in accordance with the use environment.”
In other words, while it can just be used for notifications, it sounds like Samsung envisages this additional screen as a viewfinder, letting you use the (usually superior) rear camera for selfies while still previewing the image onscreen.
Notifications are mentioned as well: “When a voice call, a message reception, or a new feed of an interworking app is received, the processor 120 of FIG. 1 may output a specified visual effect among the aforementioned visual effects or output a notification message using the second display 311,” the patent explains.
There are also hints of always-on functionality for this second screen, with the patent mentioning the screen at times being “partially” transparent. The most explicit mention of this low-power use comes in point 71: “For example, even if the electronic device 200 is in the standby mode, the processor 120 may provide at least one of information related to an app executed in the background, a graphic object, or an event notification as visual information by using the second display 311,” it reads.
The usual rules of expectation management apply here: just because a company patents something, doesn’t mean it has any immediate plans to incorporate the technology into a commercially available product. Indeed, four years on and another transparent screen patent from the company still hasn’t seen the light of day.
All we do know for sure is that Samsung is considering the possibility, so perhaps that’s something to look forward to with the Galaxy S24.
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Freelance contributor Alan has been writing about tech for over a decade, covering phones, drones and everything in between. Previously Deputy Editor of tech site Alphr, his words are found all over the web and in the occasional magazine too. When not weighing up the pros and cons of the latest smartwatch, you'll probably find him tackling his ever-growing games backlog. Or, more likely, playing Spelunky for the millionth time.