Last Year: The iPhone Gets Big, Small Phones Disappear
You already know most of the story — the iPhone bulked up in 2014, joining the global trend towards larger smartphone screens. But there's another side to this story. When the iPhone 6 moved up to 4.7 inches, compared to 4 inches for the iPhone 5 and 5S, we lost something. All of a sudden, the small phone became practically extinct.
Making blanket statements about a product category as diverse as smartphones is foolish, but this much is true: among the major phone makers, there's nothing comparable in size to the iPhone 5. Imagine if, once laptop makers unveiled models with a 14 or 17-inch screen, they never bothered to build another 11 or 12-inch model. That's precisely what's happening with smartphones. There's now less variety, and no real options for those who want something truly, completely pocketable.
From a sales perspective, this seems to have been a smart move on Apple's part. iPhone 6 and 6 Plus activations accounted for half of all new phones in the week or so following December 25. From a design perspective, though, it's another important milestone crossed. Phones are kind of big, now, and might always be.
This Year: Phones Are Getting Weird
There's an exciting trend taking shape in phones, that doesn't follow a specific design strategy — and that's exactly why it's exciting. LG is preparing to launch its curved G Flex 2, which should be seen as a sequel to last year's G Flex, but a full reboot. The new phone retains the weirdest feature from the original — it flexes, pressing flat when needed without damaging the curved screen. And then there's Google's outlandish Project Ara, a modular cellphone design that lets you snap your handset together from an array of different components, such as a better-than-usual camera, or a car fob. The search giant is going to pilot the design this year in Puerto Rico. And finally, there are the recent rumors that Samsung is about to release a phone with a "three-sided" screen, meaning the extreme left and right edges of the screen are slightly angled, providing you with what amounts to two additional (and very narrow) displays. The odds of success for these experiments are anyone's guess, and maybe beside the point. What's interesting is that, win or lose, some of the largest players in consumer electronics are trying to come up with an alternative to the featureless touchscreen slate, a design that was as innovative years ago as it is bloodless now.