There are hundreds of mobile manufacturers working hard to churn out another smartphone as groundbreaking and game-changing as the first-generation iPhone, OG Motorola DROID or even the HTC EVO 4G. All of these phones played a major role in the mobile market during their time and have ultimately, for better or for worse, directed it down the path we're on today.
I say "for better or for worse" because I feel the smartphone and the market alike have come a long way in a very short amount of time. Smartphones have matured from slightly advanced feature phones with email capabilities to powerful, pocket-sized computers that can do some pretty amazing things.
Without a doubt, it's a spectacular feat.
But there is a darker side to the story. Hundreds of manufacturers churn out new phones every year. Over the past six years or so, said manufacturers have expressed their differing mobile hardware designs and form factors. And over the past six years, only one form factor has survived the journey nearly unscathed. The others – vertical sliders, horizontal sliders, flip phones, etc. – have all but died (at least in the smartphone realm).
Some might consider this a good thing. The candy bar form factor is popular for more than one reason: people like it, it's ergonomic and it maximizes and highlights what is the most important feature of a pocket-sized media device, the display. Like it or not, there is a rhyme and rhythm to why every manufacturer has all but killed other form factors.
That, however, doesn't mean it's the best (or right, for that matter) way to go about things. This trend has led to umpteen lawsuits over patent and design infringement. Remember that $1 billion settlement Samsung has to pay to Apple for copying their rectangle design? Samsung may have blatantly copied Apple in the beginning, but their later devices took their own shape. At the end of the day, though, there are only so many ways you can style a rectangle. Eventually (and this is actually beginning to happen now), everything starts to look the same – intentional or not.
On Saturday, The Verge forum user DanJ01 opened a thread with his disapproval of the candy bar form factor being the only form factor most manufacturers are comfortable making anymore. "So now, we have a bevy of different smartphone manufacturers, and less and less choice of form factor," says user DanJ01. He explains that there is plenty room for horizontal and vertical sliders, even a flip phone or two, revisiting the dynamic keyboard of the Samsung Alias. He expresses that there is room for different tiers of form factors:
Introductory texting phone – For "tweens and teens", he uses the Palm Pixi as an example.
Introductory casual phone – For the everyday consumer who doesn't feel the need for bleeding speeds and premium prices. He references the previous-generation iPhones that undergo a price drop once the new iPhone is announced.
Premium Keyboard – Like the Pre 3 (rest in peace, friend we never knew), some people just want a keyboard. He argues that some people still want or need a physical keyboard and that there are many ways they can be improved.
Premium Fullscreen – This tier is for those who want the best of the best. Think Samsung Galaxy S III, Note II, iPhone 5, etc.
Premium Gaming – Capitalizing on the rise of mobile devices in the gaming industry, the forums user things there is a market for Sony XPERIA Play-like devices with a little more refinement.
I can't particularly say I agree with DanJ01's views in every detail. Remember, I wasn't upset to hear that HTC is putting the final nails in the physical QWERTYs' coffin. And while gaming controls on a smartphone are great in theory, the XPERIA Play was bad enough to (hopefully) deter anyone else from going down that path for some time to come.
Mainly, I'm glad to see these form factors go due to the poor execution we saw time and time again. Few companies are capable of making a smooth, rigid and durable hinge system. The less moving parts there are in a phone, the better. In fact, the only phone I've ever had with moving parts that felt sturdy and smooth was the T-Mobile G2 by HTC, but I'm positive there are horror stories about that bizarre hinge, too.
That said, I whole-heartedly agree with DanJ01 in that there is plenty of innovating to be done, that many form factors have gone unexpressed and many improvements over current smartphone hardware can be introduced.
The hot swappable battery DanJ01 mentions is something I've talked about in the past. In theory, by having an inbuilt 200mAh (give or take) battery, you could take out the primary battery and install another without powering down the phone. Another is along the lines of what Motorola is already doing by fitting their phones with gigantic batteries, or what Nokia is doing with PureView in the 808 and Lumia 920. There are dozens of ways current smartphones can be improved, yet manufacturers are focused on improving their devices in areas that should carry less weight (i.e.: relentlessly improving CPU and GPU while putting battery tech on the back burner.)
As far as form factors go, I can think of a couple different ones I would like to see a manufacturer try. A multi-display phone, like the Flip concept, would be amazing. Kyocera tried this and botched it. I truly believe it can be done again with much more finesse. Another form factor I wouldn't mind trying is a vertical BlackBerry QWERTY on a device with 4-inch display (and I do not mean BlackBerry-like, but an actual keyboard designed by Research In Motion). Think Palm Pixi on a large scale and without that terrible pebble keyboard.
It's worth mentioning that there are several form factors I would like to see expressed that aren't possible yet, like a flexible phone that folds in half or wraps around your wrist. Eyes are on you, Samsung.
Not all QWERTYs are bad and something needs to be done to differentiate the onslaught of nearly indistinguishable mobile handsets. What type of form factors would you like to see, ladies and gents? Are you happy with the candy bar? Or do you feel some manufacturers could afford to think outside the box from time to time?