Is Motorola's Shatterproof Display the Next Big Thing in Phones?

NEWS ANALYSIS: The new Droid Turbo 2 has a shatterproof display with a 4-year guarantee. Will this be a feature other smartphones will get in response?

Motorola ShatterShield display

Motorola—which gave its new Droid Turbo 2 phone a shatterproof display that comes with a four-year breakage guarantee—may just have upped its game with smartphone owners who have broken or will break the expensive, often delicate display screens on their costly modern devices.

The Droid Turbo 2, which Motorola announced at the end of October, features a new Moto ShatterShield display that is built with five layers that are sandwiched together and designed to absorb shocks and not break.

At this point, the new design might be one of the toughest displays out there and could be attractive to users who have dropped their expensive smartphones and come away with cracked or shattered screens and devices that no longer even work.

So, will the Moto ShatterShield be a feature that causes smartphone buyers to line up to buy the tougher new handsets in droves or is it just a nice feature that could give Motorola a bit of a leg up on its competitors? Is it something that could force other smartphone vendors to include shatterproof displays in the next generations of their own phones just to satisfy the demand of consumers who want tougher handsets?

It depends on whom you ask, according to a sampling of mobile IT analysts who discussed the new displays with eWEEK.

"I think it's an interesting development, but not necessarily a game-changer for Motorola just because they're the first with a mainstream phone to have a 'shatterproof' display," said Bill Menezes, a principal research analyst with Gartner. "You may remember all the talk a year or so ago about Apple planning to use the so-called 'sapphire' display with similar qualities; they haven't done so yet, but it's a sign that Motorola won't be the only mainstream OEM with this for very long."

At the same time, handset maker Kyocera built phones with sapphire screens and sold them several years ago, but the company doesn't have a large presence in the United States, said Menezes. "If this turns out to be a game-changer for anyone, it will be the accessory makers. Once most mid- to high-end phones have this screen protection technology, you have to think the Otterboxes of the world will lose some sales. We'll have to wait and see."

Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, said the shatterproof screens will resonate with certain customers, while for others, it may not rate as highly. "Those who are most interested with the overall total cost of ownership will gravitate to this feature for obvious reasons," he wrote in an email reply. "They know that shattered displays are a major cost factor over the life of their smartphones."

Moorhead said that Motorola may have erred by limiting the display warranty to only four years. "I wish Motorola would have made it a lifetime guarantee versus four years as it projects more confidence about the shatterproof nature," he wrote.

Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, said that "as a stand-alone feature, it's a great addition to the mix and a way that Motorola could stand out from the crowd. What would really be interesting is data on how much consumers and businesses pay annually to repair damaged displays. If I were Motorola, I'd be trying very hard to quantify that and use it to my advantage."

On the other hand, wrote King, "any time a major vendor swims against the tide, it has a chance of either failing miserably or fundamentally changing the market. On the plus side, look what happened when T-Mobile killed off two-year contracts. Display fragility is one of the biggest problems with smartphones, and at this point, Motorola looks like the only vendor who gives a damn about the issue. Depending on how the company markets it, this could be a big deal with positive consequences."

If Corning, the makers of scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass used by many smartphone makers for their displays, comes up with a competing product, "I expect it'll be because of pressure from Motorola," wrote King.

Rob Enderle, principal analyst of Enderle Group, told eWEEK that the overall success of the new Moto ShatterShield multi-layer display could also hinge on whether it is as clear and bright as traditional displays, despite all its layers.

"If it works, it would be on the list of things that would cause someone to choose one phone over another if they were aware of the feature," wrote Enderle. "It is a big deal, but it isn't magical. It won't make up for a mediocre phone. The Droid Turbo 2 looks to be a decent phone. So, with the right marketing, this could drive folks to it. It is actually pretty cool. I'd definitely consider this phone where I might not have otherwise."