This mad smartphone prototype houses three handsets in one ugly case

If your dream mobile device is three handsets stuffed inside a grey brick that makes the original Game Boy look futuristic, then researchers from Dartmouth College have got your back. The prototype houses three phones which work in tandem allowing simple sharing with children and strangers – without the risk of them accessing content they shouldn’t.

This may seem like a ridiculously over-the-top solution for a problem that ranks somewhere between having unmatched socks and being out of milk in most people’s daily lives. But the technology running it is quite advanced, even if the execution is more Tonka Toy than Apple.

So what you have here is a 6in Google Nexus 6P, a 4in Nexus 4 and a 2.4in custom Android handset, which are held together in a 3D-printed case. The two smaller handsets are on rails, which pop out and back in at will. When you remove them a little, the custom version of Android pops up a number of options, allowing you to hand over the phone with access to just one app, a selection of apps, screen sharing with the main handset or a fully unlocked OS. You can flip the experience so you pass over the main handset and keep the dinky one should you wish. Whichever method you pick, you’ll be able to monitor what the other person is doing on your mothership handset, to make sure they don’t get up to mischief.this_mad_smartphone_prototype_houses_three_handsets_in_one_ugly_case_-_1

All very clever, but to quote Jeff Goldblum’s character in Jurassic Park: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” Sure, this may be a slightly oddball Android prototype rather than raising dinosaurs from the dead, but the question remains: what is the point of this? The researchers have a number of views on this, as you’d hope they might.

The first scenario is to distract a child, leaving you free to carry on with tedious adult tasks like reading emails and looking pensively at spreadsheets. Well, okay, but it’s hard to a 3-in1 handset being any cheaper than just buying an additional cheapo Android handset to placate a child if that’s a serious weapon in your parenting arsenal.

The second scenario they mention is passing your middle handset off to someone with Google Maps locked as the main app, letting them navigate while you drive, safe in the knowledge that they’re not going to read your messages, or set your text message tone to the clown horn noise. Fine, but if you don’t trust your passenger not to invade your privacy on the M4, maybe make them walk?

Finally, the researchers say you can loan your mini handset to a stranger allowing them make an urgent call without them stealing your phone. Which I guess is true – who would bother running off with a 2.4in Android handset, unless they want to deck out a doll’s house with a working TV set? – but it’s hardly something that happens often enough to warrant this technical solution.

Maybe I’m being overly harsh, but I just don’t see much point in this: it’s undeniably neat technologically, but I can’t see much benefit. Still, in an age where smartphone manufacturers are struggling to differentiate from one another, you wouldn’t put it past them adopting the ideas here under the banner of innovation. But their designers will have their work cut out making it look stylish.

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