Each year, we take some time and take a look at the most interesting new smartphones that are being released. Over the past few years, fewer companies are making smartphones and throughout the whole industry, innovation has seemed to slow. Whether this is a result of rigid market dynamics, supply shortages, or the extraordinary costs it takes to manufacture and source components, it has taken some of the largest technology companies in the world—such as Amazon, LG, and HTC—out of the market and presented limited opportunities for other global technology leaders such as Microsoft, Sony, and Nokia.
This leaves a very small number of manufacturers holding down a large chunk of the smartphone market so they don’t have the overwhelming pressure to push the needle as much as they once did. In fact, many of the top manufacturers have actually invested in developing more in-house processes for the manufacturing of components that are actually spending on innovation. That’s not to say that there isn’t any innovation going on, but all in all, the things that manufacturers are doing with their smartphones aren’t much different than they were five years ago. Let’s take a look at one specific element of smartphones that is starting to get some new perspectives: the form factor.
Only over the past few years have smartphone manufacturers considered changing the form factor of the phones that they produce; and only then, it’s just a couple of manufacturers doing it. This is because a lot of companies don’t have the market share to do interesting new things with their devices and rely on standard products to be able to turn a profit.
For example, just before they ceased their smartphone division, the South Korean company LG released a phone called the LG Wing, which had two displays, but one was opened horizontally to create an interesting form factor that was like nothing that anyone had seen before. Then, as mentioned, it didn’t sell well enough to keep LG from shuttering their smartphone division permanently.
Larger manufacturers like Samsung and Huawei have been first to market on smartphones with foldable screens. The foldable phones use a flexible OLED display to allow the devices to fold up. This tech seemed pretty improbable to catch on until Samsung released the Galaxy zFold in 2019. Around the same time Huawei Mate X launched. Each had a high-quality OLED foldable screen, but featured different mechanisms to make these bigger screens compact enough to be considered a smartphone. A year later Samsung doubled down with the Z Flip, which was effectively a flip phone from the early 2000s, but when you opened it up it was a flagship smartphone.
The next innovation is the “rollable'' phone. Using these pliable OLED displays, some manufacturers have played with the notion that the best way forward would be to keep the traditional form factor of a smartphone, but hide an expanded display inside the chassis of the phone. If a user wants to use a larger screen, they would toggle the screen to unroll and, voila, it will unroll to unveil a much larger screen.
It remains to be seen when (or if) these expandable screens will get to market (or be a worthwhile innovation). One thing is for certain: smartphone manufacturers will continue to rely on the trusty form factor that has worked for them for over a decade.
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