For more than a decade, the iPhone defined the overall shape and style of a smartphone.
Despite Apple’s patent litigation against its main rival Samsung, that simple and iconic concept of a black rectangular touchscreen with rounded corners has been mimicked by manufacturers the world over.
Rising demand from billions of new customers meant that, for many years, handset makers could get away with little real differentiation and still prosper, especially as Google’s low-cost Android operating system swept the market. However, after a bruising 2018 that saw the industry’s first decline in sales volumes, this is shaping up to be the year that smartphone designs are finally starting to evolve.
The first major change: folding phones. “Clearly there is a need for differentiation but the technology was not ready to bring that differentiation to life,” said Francisco Jeronimo, a devices analyst at research group IDC. “Flexible displays are opening that door. [They are] unleashing the creativity of those brands that are seeing the market getting to saturation levels.” Conor Pierce, corporate vice-president at Samsung UK & Ireland, said: “The market needs it.” “I think people have become slightly apathetic about the same form factor over a number of years,” he added. “This is really exciting — a new era of how we interact with technology.”
The folding smartphones announced during the past week by Samsung and Huawei are just the most prominent sign of manufacturers’ new willingness to experiment with different — if sometimes perplexing — new features and designs.
Tim Bradshaw in Barcelona