Product design seems to have taken a backset off late as the current trend seems to be fixated on delivering better performance than the competition. This is especially true in the smartphone segment. A rule of thumb for most manufacturers involves designing a flagship handset, a blueprint of sorts and then churning out a whole bunch of variants around it at different price points with slight variations—and that’s about it. While this strategy does save them a lot of R&D cost, what we are left with are just clones of one handset and after a while, it just gets downright annoying. While there’s no doubt that they may have the cutting edge hardware under the hood, there’s a thing called aesthetic appeal—something people seem to have forgotten these days in their desire to own the ‘fastest’ or ‘most powerful’ smartphone. So what gives? Why is it so difficult to design a handset for each price segment that’s completely unique than the rest in the line-up?
Sense of déjà vu?
The best example of this lazy approach to design is the new Windows Phone 8 handsets, announced by Nokia and HTC. The Finnish handset maker launched the Lumia 920, its brand new Windows Phone 8 handset. But is it really new? Apart from the new innards, the design is more or less that of the Lumia 800 and Lumia 900. Granted those were quite popular handsets, but I would imagine them wanting a completely new identity for the new wave of handsets rather than looking like another clone of an older design. And it doesn’t stop there. HTC’s recent announcement of the Windows Phone 8X and 8S look very similar to Nokia’s offering. And for the first time, HTC will be offering WP handsets in different colours, just like its competitors. This similarity could also be due to pressure from Microsoft, I mean, it already runs a tight ship around what goes into the phone, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it had some guidelines about the design as well. Another example is, of course, Apple’s iPhone 5. According to Apple, it didn’t want to change the iconic design of the iPhone 4, but I feel it doesn’t really has enough time to come up with a new design, which is why it just made it a bit taller. I’m sure a brand new design is somewhere in the works, deep inside a secret lab somewhere that will eventually arrive as the iPhone 7 or 8.
When will these concepts hit the market?
The smartphone industry took a massive leap from keypads to full touchscreen phones, but it seems as if we have hit a saturation level where there doesn’t seem to be any more room for innovative designs. Now, I’m no design expert but I really want to see something different rather than massive slabs of glass (some of which are too big for comfort) with plastic or metal bits holding everything together. Coming back to Nokia again, whatever happened to all the concept designs we saw years ago? Remember the Nokia Aeon? It was a slightly curved, full touchscreen phone that surfaced as a concept many years ago. Back then, a design like this seemed like a distant dream, but it’s very much doable today. Curved displays have been done by Samsung in the Nexus S and Galaxy Nexus, so what’s stopping Nokia? If the Aeon would have been the new Lumia 920, I for one would have been super excited for the phone. I’m guessing the next big leap will happen with flip phones with touchscreen or flip-touch phones or whatever they decide to call them. Samsung has already shown off its foldable AMOLED displays on multiple occasions and once it is able to make it more commercially feasible, that will be something to look forward to. In fact, having a large screen won’t be an issue then, since you’ll always be able to fold the phone to make it more pocketable. However, until that actually happens, brace yourself for more monotonous smartphones heading your way.