What Folding Phones Say About State of SmartPhones

Huawei Mate.

Over the past few weeks, the world has been talking about folding smartphones. Bigger screens, thicker devices, and $2,000 price tags have not deterred the excitement around these new devices. There are some skeptics, but they are largely drowned out by enthusiasm like that found in The Verge, which already wonders if we will someday “talk of single-sided smartphones in the same nostalgic way we now speak of devices with external antennas, monochrome screens, and fixed-focus lenses.”

As it happens, nostalgia is exactly what I felt when I saw this new generation of smartphones. I was reminded of the first folding device that got me excited about mobile computing: the Blackberry Pager with a full chiclet keyboard and flip-out screen. Then there was Windows CE-powered HP Jornada, which I also loved.

And who could forget the scene in the 1997 thriller, The Saint, when Val Kilmer used his Nokia Communicator to transfer money while hanging out in Moscow? That cinematic moment showed me the way of the future.

Little did I realize how dramatically diminished Nokia’s presence would be in that future. At the dawn of the 3G era, they were the dominant handset maker. But business was becoming increasingly competitive, with upstarts like Samsung and LG eating away at their profits. The world was awash in candy bar-style phones and basic Razr flip phones, and people were getting bored. Needing to sell higher-priced devices with greater margins, Nokia became one of the more daring companies when it came to phone design. They began developing phones that focused on cameras, and others that were all about watching and recording videos. Continue reading “What Folding Phones Say About State of SmartPhones”

What is Design

Apple has received (I think unwarranted) criticism for its iPhone 7 design from technology reviewers. I disagree with them and in my latest piece for The New Yorker, I explain what is good iconic design, what matters and how should we think about design in the connected age.