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Samsung’s new trademark might mean ambient notifications for its next major smartphone

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Your phone’s notification LED, audible chimes, and vibrations do a respectable job of indicating when a new message or email has hit your notification shade, but they aren’t exactly verbose — it’s impossible to determine the importance of said new message or email without arduously unlocking your phone. That’s why some phones with OLED screens preview the content of incoming messages, and why Samsung may implement a better notification system of its own in its bevy of upcoming smartphones. The Korean smartphone maker has applied for a potentially telling trademark, “Always On Display,” in the United States.

Samsung’s February 2 USPTO application doesn’t exactly spell out the meaning of “Always On Display,” but it isn’t difficult to speculate what technology the term might be referring to. Samsung’s flagship Galaxy phones universally sport AMOLED screens, a type of display capable of leaving individual pixels not in use “off” — black borders around a photograph emit no light, for example, nor do dark elements in a nighttime movie scene.  This unique property of OLED is obviously a boon for display contrast, but it confers the added benefit of reduced power draw: the fewer pixels “lit,” the less power the display needs.

What does AMOLED’s per-pixel lighting have to do with notifications, though? Look no further than Motorola’s efforts. Its top-end phones contain a feature the company calls Active Display, which briefly turns on the screen to display a preview of notifications against a black background. Thanks to the aforementioned characteristics of AMOLED and careful monitoring of the handsets’ motion sensors — other than when a notification hits the phone, Active Display only triggers when it’s taken out of a pocket or picked up from a flat surface — battery consumption’s next to nothing.

Samsung presumably intends to introduce a similar function in the upcoming Galaxy S7 and future devices. It wouldn’t be the first: Google debuted Ambient Display, a feature for all intents and purposes identical to Motorola’s Active Display, in Android 5.0 alongside the Nexus 6. (The subsequent Nexus 6P also implemented Ambient Display.) LG’s Glance View, a slightly different take on per-pixel tech, lets you peek at notifications by holding down the top half of your phone’s screen.

It’s possible, of course, that “Always On Display” refers to something entirely different. Given Samsung’s display expertise, it’d be foolish to rule out the possibility of a secondary, e-ink screen a la LG’s V10 or the YotaPhone 2, or a curved-screen notification view like that found on the Galaxy S6 Edge. Whatever the case, though, it likely won’t be long before we find out for sure. Samsung’s next big press conference is February 21.

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