When will smartphones change form factors?
The next major shift in form factor will probably come with flexible displays. A few manufacturers have already shown some prototypes (of displays, not phones), they just need to enter mass production and the costs to come down. Then we'll probably see devices with screens that can roll up into the phone when not in use, allowing them to be much smaller in your pocket. The next step would be making the antennas and chips flexible as well, allowing for things like phones that resemble those snap bracelets from the 90s.
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Curved/flexible devices will be a huge flop IMO.
Although they could make more like the LG Env touch (www.lg.com/us/cell-phones/lg-VX11000-env-touch), the major downside for most people would be battery life. 4G LTE would eat through it's small battery in very little time and making the battery bigger would make the phone very unattractive to most people. No sense in making something that won't sell to well.
The current design of smartphones is the most efficient in design, the only thing that may change is the screen size will fluctuate from one phone to the next as well as overall efficiency. Motorola RAZR MAXX has amazing battery life at the cost of thickness but that doesn't matter to me that much. we are seeing a big surge of 4.6" to 5.5" phones but there are some that still have the 4.3" screen (Sony Xperia S) which honestly is a perfect size screen to me and it has higher PPI than an iPhone. The great thing about thin phones to me is so that when you put an otterbox on it, it doesn't seem too bulky. But hopefully we will start seeing better designs in durability. Gorilla Glass is good, but not impossible to break. We will see with GG2.
We will not see another flip-smartphone for a while and here is why. Each "half" of the smartphone will have to be about half as thin as the leading smartphones to compete in the "thinness wars" It is really hard to cram good technology into something that small.
Speaking of the BlackBerry Style specifically, the camera had to be located on the bottom (keypad) half of the phone because the top (screen) half was too thin and there was no space. The camera in the new iPod touch is thicker than the whole device (and that is why the camera sticks out a bit). This problem is a legitimate concern in smartphone design.
Now the slider form factor is one I have liked more, and it was more popular than the flip. However the same issue presents itself, especially when you have to add in a hardware keyboard. A screen and digitizer will always be more thin than keys.
Hope I provided some insight!
After taking care of customer awareness and desire, things not to be taken lightly, comes the manufacturing side of the business. When designing a product you want something that can be mass produced. The fewer the moving parts the better. I too, loved the fact that I could open my phone to answer a call and close it to end it. However, it's simply not as profitable as the candy bar style. A straight slab of metal is easier to make than anything with moving parts.
When cell phones first came out, manufacturers like Nokia, Sony-Ericsson, and LG wanted to sell to people who never had them before. They wanted to sell the experience of landline, but portable. It wasn't so much about the design of the phone, but simply that it worked. These phones were huge in comparison to today, ugly, but the battery lasted a long time and some of them were very durable.
Over time these same companies wanted to sell people a new phone, instead of just making it shinier, they introduced new form factors and thus the clam shell open to answer phone was introduced. It fit better in your pocket and the inside screen didn't get scratched no matter how much you threw the phone around. Durability increased and fewer pockets made calls.
As more and more people wanted cell phones, profits decrease rapidly as companies are forced to add more features, but not increase the price because of competition. People want something to replace their iPod, then they want to have a qwerty keyboard, then a color screen. Finally people want similar features of a computer, in their pocket and they want the battery to last more than a day that could include video streaming, gps directions, music downloading, etc. The software become as important as the hardware, which is great on a customer level. Many older clam shell phones could only make calls and take 1MP pictures. Texting with T9 is something I'm not proud of either.
As cell phones have gotten so advanced the companies have had to play it safe when it comes to design. It's become more about features and software. Yes there are some crazy designs out there and hopefully there will always be, but at this point everyone know show to use a touchscreen. Even grandma knows if you touch a picture, you can make it bigger or have it launch an app.
The clam shell is dead because it was a short-term durability win. The Motorola Razor was the best clam shell in my opinion, but those days are long gone and thankfully we can harness the power of a multiple core computer connected to an extremely fast internet in our pockets without having to be millionaires!
Even if a rogue billionaire like Richard Branson got into the game in an effort to change the style, it would need the full Blackberry, Palm, Apple treatment. It's own OS, meaning it cannot run other apps. By buying into the new design you would be hoping that it catches on and developers port their apps to the new platform. Kinda like starting all over again, when everyone else loves the simplicity of the products right now.
I can visualize money being given to people to develop a new smartphone platform, I just don't see the apps and software development to make it popular and able to compete. Also, the fact that Apple is the only current control-freak, do it all yourself example that hasn't failed is a big thing to consider. There's a reason for specialization and why Sony, Nokia and others gave up on their own software development for Android/Windows.
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