It is easy to summarize Android smartphone design trends as simply a series of larger phones with larger batteries. The good thing about having so many companies designing and manufacturing Android phones is that someone is always trying something new.
Going against the grain. One trend with smartphones for the past few years is the constant drive to build thinner and thinner phones, with the slimmest designs now hovering at about 6 millimeters. There is nothing particularly ergonomic about a thinner device, but this is done because of the “wow” factor it evokes. If someone ever made a phone as thin as a credit card, it would not be particularly comfortable to hold.
HTC eschewed this trend this year. While each HTC flagship handset is gotten successively thinner, the HTC One is actually a hair thicker (by 0.4 mm) but narrower in the girth (by 1.7 mm) than the phone is replaces. To make the phone feel comfortable in hand, a curved back was employed to keep the phone thinner at the edges.
This was followed by the Motorola X Phone, or Moto X. Notably, Motorola released two similar phones, the Verizon exclusive DROID Ultra, which is impressively thin at 7.2 millimeters, and the Moto X, which is chunky by today’s standards at 10.4 mm. Like the HTC One, a curved back is employed to make the phone thinner at the edges. So far, no hands-on review I have read has panned the Moto X for being too fat. The Moto X’s relatively narrow girth of 65.3 millimeters compensates for its thicker case.
Where no one has trodden before. When surfing the net or typing out an instant message, bigger is usually better. It is easier to manipulate a phone with two hands. But for the most traditional use of a phone, making voice calls, they can get too big. One trend I do notice is for more and more people to use the speakerphone. This may be a matter of preference, but I tend to attribute this trend to the fact that more and more people select phones that are larger than they can comfortably hold up to the ear.
Some smartphone manufacturers are looking to mitigate this by changing the location of buttons. The LG G2 has its volume buttons, which are frequently used while making voice calls, at the center of the back, which seems to be an acknowledgement that many users won’t be able to wrap their hands around its 70.9 millimeter case and still be able to comfortably manipulate volume buttons.
Oppo has released a teaser for its soon to be announced N1 smartphone indicating that it will be using controls at the back to make the phone easier to use with one hand.
Blast from the past. The flip and slide out QWERTY keypad designs were dead, well until this month. Samsung has announced a new dual screen flip phone and LG a new phone with a slider QWERTY keyboard. Both phones are targeted at the small niche of users distressed over the loss of their physical buttons.
We also have “new” offerings like the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom. The Zoom is more like a camera converted into a smartphone, than a smartphone with a camera. This is not a new trend, the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom, really is just a new take, if not a more extreme take, on the Samsung Pixon from five years ago.
It is possible to go on. You have trends like: more and more ruggedized phones. More smartphones with tablet-sized batteries squeezed into a small case. More and more phablets. More megapixels and less megapixels. But I think this brief survey is enough.
Variety is said to be the spice of life. Android represents that in the smartphone world. The good news is that we can expect more diversity. With so many Android manufacturers competing for your dollars, they are forced to innovate. Competition does force innovation,even as it results in many failed concepts. The best part is, with Android now reaping 79% of the smartphone sales last quarter, there is a sufficient-sized market for even niche products. It is hard to offer too many models if the market share of an operating systems is only at 3-4%.
Over the next year, as higher screen resolutions and additional processing power become less and less relevant, we are likely to see more diversification and innovation in other aspects of smartphone design from Android manufacturers. This, as they try to convince you that their offering is the perfect fit for you. And they are correct. In terms of fashion, culinary tastes, preferences in literature and other entertainment, one size really never fits all. Your smartphone is your most personal electronic device. It should be tailored to fit your own needs or even quirks. Why should it be a generic impersonal brick?
Photo Credit: Oppo