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Summary:

At Mobile World Congress, MSI was quietly showing off a dual-display netbook with a virtual keyboard. Do these type of designs have a place in the market or is this more of a solution in search of a problem?

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Every now and again, we hear about a dual-display device and yet, none have taken the market by storm. That should tell you a few things. Either the market for a this configuration isn’t there or nobody has done it right yet. Option three would be a combination of both, but I still think there hasn’t yet been a product that shows both the benefit and need of two screens in mobile device. The closest dual-display unit I can think of that has a chance of selling a fair number of units is the nearly-$500 eDGe reader — it provides eInk on one side and a full-color LCD for Google Android on the other. So I didn’t have high hopes when I saw the Smartbook Blog share thoughts on a dual-screen MSI concept netbook.

In truth, the theory is better than the reality. For while the prototype ran Windows 7 (Microsoft’s most touchscreen-friendly operating system to date), the UI still isn’t particularly finger friendly. Furthermore, the concept’s Atom CPU and integrated graphics struggled to keep up with web page scrolling, and the resistive screen wasn’t responsive enough to facilitate touch typing.

Those opinions illustrate one of the challenges that Microsoft continues to have in the mobile device world as we move away from the mouse and closer to a full touch experience. Even with its native touch integrations, Microsoft Windows 7 is still a desktop environment. Windows simply isn’t designed for a full touch experience, although the most recent edition is the closest yet to reaching that target. And I’m not trying to pick solely on Microsoft here. I’d make the same case against Mac OS X. Although I installed Apple’s operating system running on a touchscreen device, it ultimately was more trouble than it was worth.

Even if the real-world experience is lacking, I like the idea of that MSI is putting forth. By offering a second display and onscreen keyboard, you gain flexibility. The base can be used for text entry, for additional viewing space or other features. Turn the device on its side and you can enjoy a richer web experience with a 1200 x 2048 display resolution — minus the annoying bezel in the middle, that is. The challenges of onscreen typing might improve with a capacitive display like the one Apple is using in the iPad, but I’m not sold on the typing experience for that device either. I’ll have to get my fingers on it next month to see for sure, but in all likelihood, I’d probably rely on a Bluetooth keyboard for any input over casual use.

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  1. Perhaps a really big Nintendo DS for adult gamers

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  2. It’s cool to look at, I guess, but apart from the reading-and-surfing use case that the eDGe seems designed (and better suited) for, I just don’t see a good use for this form factor.

    With regard to touchscreen devices running a desktop OS, you might be interested in a piece I wrote on my LiveJournal recently addressing the issue: http://celtic-elk.livejournal.com/188983.html.

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  3. Replacing a laptop keyboard with a touchscreen is doing it wrong, if you ask me. If the bottom screen is just going to be a virtual keyboard all the time, then the lack of tactile feedback would really suck.

    Seriously, try typing on a hard, flat surface for a while and then tell me if it DOESN’T murder your fingers.’

    Virtual keyboards also take up quite a bit of screen space. Really defeats the purpose of a second screen, if you ask me, unless you like to change keyboard layouts or experiment with different input methods.

    The Microsoft Courier, on the other hand, is a dual-screen booklet done RIGHT, especially since there’s what is presumably a Wacom pen that is expected to handle input.

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