When it comes to phones and tablets, how thin is too thin?

Taylor Martin
 from  Concord, NC
| August 14, 2011

The smartphone revolution began roughly four years ago and has kick-started multiple arms races in the mobile realm. Wireless providers are scrambling to make the 4G transition and nationwide expansion, software companies are coding smartphone applications until their fingers go numb and parts manufacturers are pushing the limits of what the internal smartphone components can do. While the capabilities and components of smartphones expand at supersonic speeds, manufacturers are scrambling to make the biggest, baddest phone (or tablet), all while stuffing it into a neat, thin package.

On Friday, I wrote about the ridiculous possibility that cell phone may eventually come equipped with airbags and how manufacturers may have to take a step back in design to help protect the ever-fragile smartphone. This made me recall an article that I read from a few months ago about the possibility of phones inevitably becoming thinner, thanks to a new adhesive. I'm all for thinner and lighter devices, especially if they're more capable and faster. But at what point will manufacturers draw the line? How thin is too thin?

We all can agree that there is a limit to how big or chunky a phone should be. We obviously don't want to regress back to the days of Zack Morris. Likewise, I don't want a device that will break in my pocket when I sit down, or one so thin that when I hold it to my ear to talk I feel like it may slip between my fingers and shatter on the ground. As I stated in the airbag article, I love carrying my phones without cases and feeling them as they were intended to feel by the designers. And I especially love the ultra thin and streamlined design of the iPhone 4. But carrying it without a case feels more risky than usual. Not only because its shell is composed of two slabs of glass, but also because it's so thin that I never feel I have a good grip on it.

I felt very much the same when reviewing the iPad 2. Even though the device was much larger and undoubtedly stronger, I always felt like I was going to break it. I now own a Galaxy Tab 10.1 and even though I'm absolutely in love with the thing, I constantly feel like I'm going to drop it or break it due to its thinness.

Enter the rumors of the elusive iPhone 5.

Don't get me wrong, I am looking forward to Apple's next phone just as much as anyone. The OS may be painstakingly boring, but their hardware is just too sweet to pass up. But I digress. The numerous rumors we all have read in one form or another all point to a thinner, lighter, more iPod Touch-like design in a similar-sized casing to the iPhone 4.

On the other hand, the Galaxy S II is even thinner at 8.49mm thin. I haven't owned a Galaxy S II, but I have spent some hands-on time with one and unlike the iPhone, I never felt at risk. Not once did I feel like I was going to drop it. Maybe it was the larger chassis or the weight of the phone. Regardless, I was actually strangely fond of the size and weight of the Galaxy S II. The phone may have felt comfortable in-hand, but I definitely feel like Samsung was straddling the limit.

My one fear and reason for even bringing this up is that Apple and Samsung are already at each other's necks. Not only have they taken the battle to court, but proving who can make the thinnest and lightest device seems to be their main ambition and I fear they're going to take it too far at some point.

How do you feel about it, readers? Am I crazy? Or do you like the fact that phones and tablets are becoming so thin they feel fragile? Should manufacturers begin to focus on other aspects of design?