Last weekend I went hands-on with Samsung's brand new Galaxy Fold in London. Yes, it runs Android and this is being published on AAS and AAWP, but I believe it's a very relevant current data point in terms of mobile computing on the go. Not least because it's a modern equivalent to the Nokia Communicators of old. But it also paves the way for thoughts on where Microsoft is going next with its Surface Duo...
Recent Features - Series 80
2019 really has been the year of the folding phone - and not for the right reasons. The idea of a phone-sized device that unfolds to become a tablet (and vice versa) is such a tempting dream that we've been talking about as an industry for the last three years. Arguably 20 years if you include the Nokia Communicators, which unfolded to become a mini-laptop, in effect. We've seen attempts at a folding phone/tablet from Samsung and Huawei and with concepts from others, yet none of these approach the common sense of what Microsoft was patenting and prototyping back in 2016 for its reputed Surface Phone. So why hasn't someone else designed along similar lines? After all, a twin glass hinged unit would be cheaper and far more durable than bending plastic.
In the spirit of continually keeping an eye on what the wider mobile world can offer, and especially looking at form factors which are interesting and marry up with what AAS and AAWP readers might be looking for, I noted that my Gemini has now received its Android 8.1 update. Why is this relevant? Because it brings the ability to use the full screen, turning the Gemini into a more convincing micro-laptop. Or, if you will, a present day Communicator.
Back in early 2010 I was part of a panel of people giving feedback on different aspects of phone functions, software and hardware, run on behalf of Nokia. The latter section was about handling a variety of unmarked (non-running) prototypes and saying what we thought about the physicality. Two, in particular, caught my eye, with QWERTY keyboards and slide'n'tilt displays. One went on to become the Nokia E7, running Symbian, the other (larger, which I preferred) went on to become the Nokia N950, running MeeGo. And now, in 2019, inspired directly by these designs, we have a new Communicator, shown off at MWC.
As an industry watcher, the world of smartphones has never been more competitive or better value. It's also duller than ditchwater. And, apparently, growth has now stopped and sales are in decline... With IFA 2016 just over in Germany, where yet another batch of almost identical 5" touch slabs were announced, I'm tempted to suggest that now really is the time to look for character in our smartphones. Where are the USPs? Are they now relegated to older, almost retro, devices, while new products fall over themselves to stay anonymous?
Regular listeners to the 361 Degrees podcast will have heard many times of Rafe's legendary 'six year rule', when referring to smartphone platforms and ecosystems. With Blackberry seemingly imploding before our eyes, with Nokia having been snapped up recently by Microsoft and with Symbian increasingly being forgotten in the marketplace, I thought it worth both expanding on Rafe's rule of thumb and also charting it graphically. A mosquito lives for a week, a hamster for a year or two, smartphone operating systems about six or seven years, and (happily) human beings about 70 to 80 years. Life and death, all in 1000 words? It can only be an All About (sites) editorial....
So 2013 saw the first 6"-screened 'phone' (the Huawei Ascend Mate). Greeted with a degree of shock by most, would you be surprised to know that my 'smart' device of choice back in 1997, a whopping sixteen years ago, also had a touchscreen with a 6" diagonal? Now that your jaw has hit the floor, let me suggest you glance at the chart below, proposing that large screened devices have, for tech fans preferring to live on the cutting edge, always been available and that impressions of a gradual size creep are more for the wider market.