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Jun 6, 2016

Ode to the Flip Phone?

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I remember getting my first cell phone like it was yesterday. It was my 15 th birthday and the phone I was thrilled to receive was dumb, heavy and oh so cool all at the same time. I could make phone calls, text (by triple-tapping the numeric keypad) and play the one pre-installed game – Snake.  Thirteen years later, I’ve had my share of ever-evolving phones from the Motorola Razr, to the very first iPhone, and so on. I have games galore, messaging apps and yes, I can still make the occasional phone call.

But is it any more exciting, or even as “cool” as I used to think it was? Smartphones seem to have peaked, with longer life-spans and slower sales, as there seems to be less and less to differentiate the old from the new. In other words, we’ve hit a level of maturity and with it, a tinge of dullness. This has resulted in the murmuring of a retro vibe: hipsters now sneer at smartphones, opting instead for flip phones. And a new “Motorola” ad suggests the Razr may be brought back later this month… I hope so, if only to shake up the market.

Not that I want to regress to the flip phone of my past, but we need a new take on the smartphone market; a new niche or “wow factor” to recapture user interest and justify expense. After all, the average cost of a smartphone is around $500 and can quickly head far higher than that, now that subsidies are (almost) a thing of the past. Simply put, the current design focus of “bigger, faster, lighter” is, in many ways, the enemy of true innovation and is limiting the appeal of the latest generation of devices. How fast do I really need a phone to be? Can I make mine last longer if it’s still running the apps without the processor choking?

One approach that is teetering on the edge of emergence is that of a modular smartphone. Conceptually the idea of modular smartphones is great: when your battery level is critically low, just pop in a new one (of course, my original flip phone could do that too…). Want a better picture? Snap in the higher megapixel lens. Broke the screen again? Click in a new one and be on your way. However, with this flexibility also comes a lot of responsibility. Where do we keep the many auxiliary pieces? Do we drag them around with us at all times? Or does it come down to dressing up our phone for the day ahead before walking out the door in the morning - not a bad idea in concept, but I’m not convinced that we will still be “dressing” the phone after the first week.

Time will be the only indicator of whether or not this concept will take a foothold in the market. Until then, the one main feature I would like to see come out of the mobile world in the next year is a smartphone with longer battery life. Forget “bigger, faster, lighter”; give me “longer.” But ideally, give me that with a cooler outer shell. Something that shouts that it is different in the way the original Razr did. Maybe Motorola is on to something…



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