Are we doomed to the slab design forever?
If you look just a few years in the past, the smartphone scene was a little bit different than it is today. If you go into a mobile retail store today, you’ll find that there are plenty of selections to choose from; however, most of these selections are going to look nearly identical to each other, despite varying greatly when it comes to the software aspect of the phones. A few years ago, though, you could walk into the same retail location and find that each phone probably had a quirk or two that made it stand out from the others.
A small part of me kind of misses this wondrous aspect of going in and looking at smartphones.
The very first time I went shopping for a smartphone was back in 2010. My first stop was a T-Mobile store and I distinctly remember how different all of the choices were. You had the Motorola Charm, a weird square Android device with a full physical QWERTY keyboard; the HTC MyTouch 3G Slide, a decent-sized and hefty Android with a horizontal slide-out physical keyboard; the HTC HD2, a Windows (Mobile) phone with a nice 5-megapixel camera on the back; a couple of different BlackBerry models; and finally you had the granddaddy of all Androids just recently released at the time, and that was the Samsung Galaxy S Vibrant, the phone I ended up taking home that day.
It didn’t really matter whether you went into a T-Mobile store or any other carrier’s store at the time, there were a ton of unique smartphones coming out then: the Motorola Flipout, the Sony Xperia Play, the Kyocera Echo... all of these phones were easily discernible from one another, and it was really kind of neat to see all of the quirky ways that manufacturers were making their phones blatantly stand out. It was fun going to look at smartphones then.
Now, I don’t consider it un-fun (non-fun? anti-fun?) going to look for a new smartphone now - but there’s certainly not a lot of magic to it anymore. The form factors are pretty much the same across the board, with BlackBerry being the only exception. iPhones are slabs. Windows Phones are slabs. Androids are slabs. I imagine smartphones are this way across the board for a reason - simply put, the other designs weren’t selling that well. But that doesn’t change the fact that I now find the actual designs of the smartphone utterly boring to talk about.
I realized this today after reading about the Samsung Galaxy Alpha, where the biggest headliner about the phone is that it has a metal frame. Great for Samsung, but not unique to the industry. Even looking away from Samsung, I feel like all we really have to talk about when it comes to the actual design of smartphones is stuff like button placement and what it’s made out of, and even then you only have a few choices.
“Samsung’s latest phone still uses plastic on the back.”
“HTC is using metal again.”
“Here comes to the new Nokia with that tough polycarbonate.”
In terms of actual designs, the industry has run dry. I think the last phone that really stands out as having a “different” design might have been the LG G Flex earlier this year, and even then when I walked into the store to find it the only reason it drew my attention was because it was such a big phone - the curve had nothing to do with it. At a glance, it doesn’t look unique at all.
I get it, though. I went from using the physical keyboards to going entirely virtual before the physical stuff even phased out, so I can even look at myself to blame when it comes to the fact that none of those designs were cutting it. Still, it was nice to just have that choice. I liked being able to choose from different designs. I kind of hope that manufacturers aren’t completely out of ideas when it comes to unique designs, because I’m starting to get a little bored with the slabness of everything.