Smartphones All Look Alike, Are Boring

This will sound a bit get-off-my-lawn, but smartphones are too much alike nowadays.

Recently, I saw several smartphones laid out at my gym, and I was struck at how much alike they looked, despite being produced by different manufacturers and rocking different carriers and OSes. It’s all black bricks with big screens anymore.

I’ve followed Android news closely since I switched from an iPhone to Android in the form of the HTC EVO 4G back in May 2010. Compared to its predecessors, like the original Droid and Nexus 1, the EVO 4G was definitely something new for Android phones, with its big flashy screen, fast processor, WiMAX receiver, HDMI out, 8 megapixel camera, blah, blah, blah. 

This phone started a spec war among all phones, not just those running Android.

Here’s the problem for me: they all look alike, do pretty much the same thing, and they’re boring, including my current phone, the Nexus S.

Yeah sure, the nuanced eye can spot an iPhone, and if there’s a physical keyboard, that narrows it a bit. And yeah, people love this or that OS or carrier or app or whatever.

Still, they all look like the granddaddy OG iPhone, minus the chrome and aluminum. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s just getting a bit dull.

Apple’s attempt to capture share from the low end of the smartphone market compounds this problem too, since they will continue to pump old iPhones into the wild.

Maybe the return of white iPhones into large-scale production will help. Remember when Verizon pitched the Droid against the white iPhone?

I’m starved for something new, maybe a display innovation that makes sense or an impossibly small smartphone, Zoolander style.

I guess this is commodization.

Find the comments.




  1. The screen itself can only get so small – unless the screen were projected onto something else, such as a nearby wall. Incorporate some touch capability and you’ve got it. Unfortunately, it’s not that practical.

    I am not design-oriented, so I tend to ignore non-functional design elements. I’m not sure what could be done in terms of design, other than to change the shape from rectangular to a more square shape (which may provide some advantages on the screen).

  2. What’s beyond boring –> ubiquity.  You should not even think phone, just access what you need without thinking about it at all.  “Computer, locate Jake” is hardly fiction, you should just think it and look at a spot and see.

    So this boring is just a stepping stone on the way to ubiquity.  If you can get what you need with speaking and touching a little rectangle, what physical design do you need?  Why should a utility be exciting?  New and shiny rubs off fast.


  3. Smartphones are nearing ubiquity. Did you see that wireless subscribers exceeded US population, announced at CTIA?

    Smartphones are a bigger chunk of that number each quarter.

    I guess that’s a good point. Look at laptops or desktops, they pretty much look alike. Or TVs, set-top boxes, whatever. 

    I’m just ready for the next TiVo or original iPhone. Something really innovative.

  4. Could argue the difference between cars in a certain class are fairly marginal too. But you gotta look deeper than the skin dude for those who want to make a statement and for whom price and features are all that matters. Look at all those Apple MacBook Pros. Are they cool? Nah, only the modded ones. The rest are Best Buy shelfware.

  5. Heh, never listen to Morrissey, on The Smiths. Everyone is trying to argue me out of my assertion. I’m just bored by all these black bricks. To a consumer, there’s iPhone and a bunch of lookalikes. Now that more carriers have more iPhones, the distinctions are really blurred.

    It’s boring.

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