Should manufacturers focus more on the appearance of phones?

Taylor Martin
 from Concord, NC
Published: January 7, 2011

Being known as “The BlackBerry Guy” for years around friends and family, I was always asked, “What BlackBerry do you have now?” No matter which one I was carrying at the time, people would always reply, “That looks just like the other one you had.” I'll admit, to the untrained eye, most BlackBerrys do look very similar. Seeing that that the same company is making all of them, it's no surprise they all start to resemble each other. Between all the Android and Windows Phone 7 devices, the rest of the smartphone market is falling into a similar scenario, too. There are several manufacturers designing quite a few different form factors, but the majority of them are all-touchscreen devices. Unfortunately, when we're being introduced to 50 or more new smartphones each year, manufacturers are inevitably going to start stepping on each others' toes.

People lashed out at Samsung when we caught the first glimpse of the original Galaxy S, claiming that Sammy had copied Apple. The I9000's design is very similar to Apple's 3G and 3GS models, but the build quality and materials used were totally different. Over the last three days, we've met countless new phones in all too familiar form factors, candy bar-style. Like with BlackBerrys, we expect phones from the same manufacturer to resemble one another. We've all grown to know HTC's specific fashion, an all-touchscreen device with a black or matte gray finish made of either a rubberized plastic or metal. Motorola has their own unique, "squared" style, and Samsung tends to change up the look of nearly every device.

In the past few months we've seen some unique designs that are very distinguishable, like Dell's Venue and Venue Pro, or Sony Ericsson's Xperia line. But one newcomer, LG, has brought three new devices to the light that all resemble designs from Apple, HTC, and Samsung. Take the LG Revolution for instance; the only think keeping it from looking like some crazy spawn of the Inspire, ThunderBolt, and the EVO 4G is the vertical, metallic strip on the battery plate. The Optimus Black looks like a mixture of Samsung Vibrant with an iPhone, and the Optimus 2X looks like it was destined to join the Galaxy S family.

I don't think LG's intent was to rip anyone off here, but those are undeniable resemblances. With all of these devices using a black faceplate, the same four capacitive buttons, and an overall basic form factor, there are only so many configurations of buttons, colors, and materials that manufacturers can use before everything starts to look the same. A kickstand or front-facing camera isn't enough to do it anymore.

Maybe I've just been staring at these phones and my computer screen for too long. I just know that I'm having to do double takes at some of these devices. Hopefully some of the upcoming Windows Phone 7 and webOS devices will bring something unique to the table, but I'm not getting my hopes up. Do you agree that a lot of the upcoming phones are starting to look alike? Should manufacturers put a little more into the design of their phones do differentiate them?